Facts and safety tips for rugby union players
Rugby union is a popular football code, with approximately 120,000 Australians participating.
The International Rugby Board (IRB) administers the sport and its laws in over 100 countries. In Australia, the game is governed by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU).
Competitions are played across junior to adult community, from recreational to elite levels such as the national team, the Wallabies.
Most players are male (90%), and people of most ages participate.
A game involves two opposing teams, of either 15 players (8 forwards and 7 backs) plus reserves or Sevens (7 a side) and Tens (10 a side).
Rugby union is a contact sport with repeated anaerobic bursts interspersed with short recovery periods.
Players require strength, speed, agility, ball handling/kicking skills, and mental skills. Some playing positions require specific skills (e.g. jumping, precision kicking).
Carrying, passing, kicking and grounding the ball over the opposing team’s try-line are the game’s attacking features. Tackling is the main defensive feature.
Facts about rugby union injuries
Players at risk of injury
There are five main groups of players at varying risk of sustaining an injury. Injury risk decreases through the following groups of players:
- Men’s grades
- Women’s grades
- Schoolboy/schoolgirl grades and children/adolescents involved in organised competitions
- Recreational/social or non-competitive
Injury also varies according to player position.
Common injuries in rugby union
Most injuries are classified as “mild/minor” or “severe”.
In men’s rugby, the lower limb is the most commonly injured site (34-48% of all injuries).
The upper limb is also frequently injured (15-29% of all injuries).
The head/face accounts for 14-27% of all injuries.
Schoolboy rugby and women’s rugby have a higher incidence of injury to the head and face, including concussion, than do other levels of rugby union.
A high proportion (33-56%) of injuries occurs during the tackle phase of the game.
Preventing rugby union injuries
Effective injury prevention involves a host of measures such as physical preparation (e.g. conditioning, warming-up, stretching and cooling-down); skill and technique development; use of protective equipment; enforcement of game laws; rule/law changes; and the management of general safety issues by administrators, coaches, referees and other personnel.
The following safety tips apply to all players, irrespective of the level of play.Physical preparation
Players should undertake physical pre-season preparation during the off-season, and obtain advice on their conditioning program from either a coach or fitness advisor.
Players should develop their individual and team skills, with guidance from their coach, before playing in competitive situations.Pre-participation screening
Children, new players and those older than 35 years, should consider undergoing preparticipation medical screening, with a qualified and experienced practitioner (e.g. sports physician or a general practitioner with sports medicine interest).
Players should be prepared to accept the advice of a sports medicine professional that they should not play if they have a condition that places them at risk of injury.Warm-up and cool-down procedures
A standard warm-up (15-30min) should consist of aerobic activity, stretching and skills practice immediately before a game.
Players should follow a regular stretching programme to increase and maintain flexibility.
Players should use correct techniques for regular stretching. Regular checking by a coach or trainer is advised.Safety during the game
Tackling should be the focus of regular skill straining and be progressively introduced to players.
At the breakdown, players should try to remain on their feet. Training of team play for the breakdown is important, as is the prevention of foul play.
Correct techniques for de-powering the scrum as specified by the ARU must be followed at all times.
Mouthguards should be worn at all times during games and practices in which impacts to the teeth and jaw are possible. Players, especially those in more vulnerable positions and higher grades, should choose custom-fabricated mouthguards.
Mouthguards should be checked every two years. Mouthguards should be replaced if damaged or broken. Replacement should be more frequent for growing children.
Players should recognise that injuries to either themselves or other players can still occur with the use of protective equipment.
Injured players should return to play only after appropriate rehabilitation to regain their strength, fitness and mobility.
Players should only wear correct footwear, as specified by Law 4, which is maintained to allow for optimal training and the rehabilitation of injuries.
Players with a previous severe injury should consult their sports medicine practitioner about the value of using protective equipment in their individual case.