Rugby union is being compromised in the name of player safety. It is nonsense, writes Mark Keohane.
Professional rugby is a risk sport and because of this risk the remuneration for players should be greater, but don’t make the game impossible to play or officiate for the one percent of players who get injured.
Players, who pursue rugby as a career and get paid millions a year to do so, know the risk.
If they wanted a career in touch rugby, then that is what they should have chosen.
The most ridiculous article I read this past week was the medical recommendation that coaches limit the amount of contact training sessions in the week because of the potential damage to the player’s brain.
Please differentiate the following: when I refer to player safety, I am talking about rugby, the professional sport, and not rugby played every weekend across the globe at every level among amateurs, be it an under 9 schools’ player or a veteran amateur club player.
I am talking about the professional game, where players make a career choice to pursue rugby to pay the bills and to create individual wealth.
Former Springbok and Bulls coach Heyneke Meyer once described ballet as a contact sport and rugby as a collision sport.
Meyer said that the bodies of players were always going to take strain, given the nature of the profession.
Player safety, in the junior ranks and in the amateur application, is non-negotiable. Do whatever to ensure a safer playing experience.
But when it comes to the professional game, accept what rugby is, the design of the sport and allow these professionals to just get on with it.
The push to have so many things changed in the professional game, under the guise of promoting a safer sport, is bordering on the ridiculous. The professional game is a mess when it comes to what constitutes a high tackle and what is deemed legal, illegal, safe and unsafe.
Referees, already having to police the minefield that is the ruck area, and in a split second determine whether any one of 20 technical offences could have been committed in 10 seconds of play, now also have to become lay medical experts as to what is deemed safe, with force, without force or particularly dangerous to the health of the player.
The referee’s primary job should be to apply the laws, but with so much down to interpretation and contradicting views on this interpretation, no two referees seem to see the same thing. Some want to coach in the name of flow and have disregard for those players infringing and others will focus on the technical infringement with a disregard for flow.
It makes rugby such a difficult sport to understand and no two matches ever seem the same.
Now the focus is on player safety and how to avoid collisions.
It is crazy because referees are ruling on point of contact, end of contact, slipping in the tackle, standing up right in the tackle, leading with an elbow or the knees as a ball carrier, alternatively the tackler. And no two referees rule the act in the same way.
The biggest joke currently is a referee determining if a player was hurt or not and, the after effect of a cleanout or a tackle and whether there was force or minimal force. When did these officials become qualified to know the consequence of a blow to the head, hip or face?
They don’t but they want to believe they do and they apply this judgement to supposedly make rugby a safer game.
Professional rugby is not a safe game. It is a brutal sport and it always has been. Two 900 kilogram sets of forwards crashing into each other at a scrum engagement would never be approved in any medical journal. A 110 kilogram individual flying into a ruck to clean out an unsuspecting stationary 110 kilogram opponent, is also not what the human body was designed for. Every collision in rugby will do some kind of damage, and it has been the case for the past 100 years.
Players know the risks if they want rugby to be a career choice.
Lewis Hamilton, as one example, knows the risk every time he races in F1. It could take one incorrect decision, one bad turn and one crash to end it all for F1 drivers, but no one is expecting F1, as a career sport, to limit how fast Hamilton and the like can drive. No one is putting restrictions where they see potential danger.
Rugby is the same.
You cannot sanitize the game without destroying its basic DNA.
Concussion is a part of professional rugby and head injuries will always be significant in professional rugby. The neck/head area is jolted every time there is a collision.
Once again, individuals choose the sport as a career. No one is forcing an individual to become a professional rugby player.
Smoking kills and every person who buys a packet of cigarettes is forewarned of the dangers of smoking. Whoever indulges in that cigarette does so out of choice and with that choice comes consequence and the potential of harm to one’s body.
Ditto, the collision sport of rugby.
Coaches teach attacking players to carry lower and lower and it is just impossible for the defender to stop the attack if the player is not allowed to try and get a shoulder under the chest in making the tackle and preventing a try being scored.
The red card sanctions for head collisions are overkill. Players are coached to make big hits and, in that immediate collision, with one player dipping and the other in elevated position, shoulders will clash with heads and heads will clash with heads.
Intent is the only applicable measurement and malicious intent makes up one tackle in a 100.
Every player knows exactly what physical damage can be done and if rugby wants to eradicate the danger of the collision, then change everything about the sport and don’t allow for contact. Just don’t call it rugby anymore.
Also on www.keo.co.za