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Real rugby needs a scrum

Lately rugby seems to be getting some very disappointing negativity and bad PR. First concussion and now banning school kids from tackling. What will these people think to ban or downgrade next?

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have issues regarding the safeguarding and welfare of players. When it comes to concussion and implementing a safe return to play I fully support the consensus but that’s another blog in itself.  Rugby is one of the largest participated sports in the world by both males and females from all ages.

World rugby reports that these numbers are continuing to grow with the introduction of their new program ‘Get into rugby’. When it comes to watching the sport I am like any other fan, I love to see the big tackle and a great carry.

However, this recent letter written by doctors and health professionals calling for the UK Government to ban tackling in school rugby games is in my mind ridiculous – I will explain why later.  They as a group continue to make suggestions that the “high impact collision” may contribute towards an increasing risk in injuries arguing that two thirds of injuries and concussions in youth rugby are down to “the collision area” and suggest schools play touch or non-contact rugby.

This report comes at a time where sedentary lifestyle and inactivity is reported to be responsible for more deaths than obesity and that eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by nearly 8 per cent (World Rugby 2016).

I myself, with my physio hat on say tackling is an important skill and agree with recent comments made by coach Alun Wyn Davies. A skill should be rehearsed and practiced for several hundred hours, time and time again so that the acquisition of that skill can be performed from a conscious to a subconscious state in the correct manner even when under fatigue as this is when injuries are more likely to occur as evidenced by the annual WRU and RFU injury surveillance programs.

To banish this skill in the junior game I believe would be detrimental both to the sport and to the athlete in two ways. Firstly, it would further enhance the gulf between northern and southern hemisphere rugby. And secondly, by delaying the age in which athletes are exposed to the tackle technique, could lead to further increased injuries. Teaching pedagogy would suggest that practicing skills at a younger age would neurologically embed that fundamental skill of the game, as children’s pre-frontal cortex is not yet fully developed which allows them to store and access this information more readily than a young adult.  Thus suggesting children would be more susceptibility to learning, understanding and performing the correct technique in comparison to older counterparts.

In my opinion I believe this skill set should remain in the game at a young age but more emphasis should be focus around delivery and correct coaching of the technique.

Nikki McLaughlin
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