Schoolboy rugby injury rates could be reduced significantly by better tackling techniques, greater policing of collisions by referees, and the modification of playing and training loads for larger players, a major study has reported.
The recommendations come following the results of a three-year research project by Ulster University, in collaboration with the Rugby Injury Surveillance Ulster Schools (RISUS) group and medical and conditioning experts.
The project, funded by the MITRE trust, the IRFU and Ulster Rugby, explored the types and causes of injuries in schoolboy rugby in the North.
It found that of 426 injuries reported among 825 first 15 squad players from 28 grammar schools surveyed in 2014-15, roughly one in five (19%) had suffered head injuries, many of which were concussions. And more than 50% of injuries reported occurred in contact.
The research of players whose age averaged 16.9 years, found the three most common injury sites as the head/face, shoulder and knee and points to a trend of increased injuries in older, heavier players who regularly undertake weight training.
“We discovered that over 50% of injuries occurred in the tackle situation or during collisions, however the lighter players were less likely to sustain injuries,” lead researcher Dr Chris Bleakley of Ulster University said. “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.”
With head injuries cited in the project showing an increase on previously reported levels in English schools rugby, orthopaedic surgeon and principal investigator to the study Pooler Archbold added: “Whilst tackling is an integral part of full contact sport, this is where targeted efforts could significantly reduce injury rates.
“With the trend of head/upper body injuries, it is critical that schoolboy referees protect players by consistently penalising collisions and tackles above the line of the shoulder.
“It is vital that young players learn proper tackling techniques.”
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