The study by Ulster University, in collaboration with the Rugby Injury Surveillance Ulster Schools (RISUS) group, was carried out in 28 grammar schools across Northern Ireland, involving 825 players on 1st XV rugby squads with an average age of 16.9 years.
The first set of data collected over the 2014/15 season recorded 426 injuries of which 204 resulted in an absence from the sport for longer than 28 days.
The three most common injury sites included the head/face, shoulder and knee.
Ligament damage accounted for 31.2 per cent of injuries followed by 19 per cent for concussion and 15.3 per cent for muscle damage. In addition, protective head guards or shoulder pads were not found to offer any additional protection from injuries to those areas.
Lead researcher, Dr Chris Bleakley from Ulster University said: “We discovered that over 50 per cent of injuries occurred in the tackle situation or during collisions, however the lighter players were less likely to sustain injuries. Larger players are used more during games and with their higher injury risk correlating to a higher volume of collisions, we recommend that this subgroup have their match load and training modified to lessen injury risk.
“Interestingly, we found mixed patterns on the effect of protective equipment in rugby. Approximately a third of players reported regular use of shoulder pads or head guards but there is no evidence that these had any influence on injury risk. It indicates that wearing shoulder pads did not implicate risk of shoulder injury and that head guards did not reduce concussion risk.
“The results of this study will allow us to develop recommendations for future preventative strategies such as tackling techniques and training, ultimately minimising risk to rugby players at school level. The aim is to make the game as safe as possible while still maintaining the spirit of this hugely popular sport.”
Ulster Rugby Medical Director, Mike Webb, added: “The research shows that one out of five injuries sustained to schoolboy rugby players in Northern Ireland were injuries to the head, many of which were concussion. This concussion rate is higher than that reported in previous surveys of schoolboy rugby in England. However, this could be attributed to the drive in recent years by Ulster Rugby and IRFU to better educate players, coaches, referees and parents on the identification and management of this injury.
“The research showed that players displayed a very high adherence to the recommended IRFU return to play guidelines following a concussion which is extremely encouraging. There would appear to be a change in attitude when it comes to concussion both at professional and grassroots level of the sport, those involved in the game are less likely to take the risk of playing on after a potential incident. "