The Irish Rugby Union Players’ Association (IRUPA) has downplayed fears that more of its members will be forced to quit the game due to injuries.
Yesterday, Ireland and Munster flanker Denis Leamy confirmed his career is over due to a debilitating hip problem. But with his national and provincial colleagues Jerry Flannery and David Wallace also forced into early retirement this season, concerns have been expressed about the physical demands on those playing at the highest level and the nature of injuries they are suffering.
However the IRUPA Player Services Advisor, Hamish Adams, last night insisted that player welfare is a top priority for his organisation and for the IRFU. He also revealed that an IRB survey found that injury rates in professional rugby have remained static over the past decade.
Adams said: “Training methods, sports science, medical practices are improving all the time. Consider someone like Simon Shaw who will be the oldest player in the French Top 14 next season at 38. Would he have been able to do it in the amateur days? I doubt it.
“We are working hard on player welfare all the time and we have a close relationship with the IRFU in terms of the demands being put on players.”
He revealed: “Ireland players play about 2,000 managed minutes a season; their equivalents in the Premiership are facing about 2,500.
“It is a concern when anyone has to retire early from the professional ranks. Yes, rugby is a very physically demanding game but people make assumptions that there is an increase in injuries. However the medical statistics don’t back up that argument.”
Last week the International Rugby Board’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery told irb.com: “It is a misconception that injury rates are increasing in the sport. It is true that players are becoming bigger, stronger and faster and that there are more contact or collision incidents in the average match, but all the data suggests that injury rates have not increased since 2002. Indeed they have actually returned to levels comparable to before the Game went professional in 1995. However, we must keep driving medical policies forward in order that those participating inrugby can have access to the best-possible training and education techniques in order that we can continue to tackle the areas that can lead to injury.”
Adams also explained that IRUPA have systems in place to help players prepare for life after rugby.
“One of our priorities is to look after welfare. My role is to develop careers of players outside of rugby. They realise that there is a finite amount of time as a professional rugby player and their retirement will come around sooner than they think or expect.
“So in the case of Denis, we in IRUPA have been providing him with personal support, business mentoring and generally helping him in that transition from being a professional rugby player to settling into life outside the game. It is tough to exit, moreso when you are not finishing on your own terms.”
Adams admitted that such high profile retirements helps focus the minds of younger players about preparing for the future. “Definitely. It puts a mature head on young shoulders when they see the likes of Jerry, David and Denis. I have been working with IRUPA on this for four years and we are heading in the right direction.”
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