Rugby safety: 'Focus on breakdown required'

Rugby | Published:

MORE stringent ruck-regulation is required at all levels of rugby to stop players ‘flying off their feet’ at breakdowns, according to Jersey Reds forwards coach Neil Tunnah.

Jersey Reds forwards coach Neil Tunnah

An RFU injury audit, the results of which were released last month, raised concerns about the risks associated with rugby due to an increase in the number of days it takes players to return to action.

A player now spends an average of 37 days on the sidelines following an injury – up from 32 in 2016/17 – while overall incidence and severity of match injuries are at their highest levels since the RFU began compiling records in 2002/03.

Concussion was found to be the most widely reported match injury, representing 20% of the total number, and although high tackles were central to the RFU’s findings they appear to suggest a need for more widespread consideration.

‘I’ve not seen a massive spike in concussions or injury but we definitely need some cleaning up around the contact zone,’ said Tunnah.

‘There’s definitely value in what they’re trying to do in terms of studying it and improving it, although the reality with studies is there will be trial and error with the variations they put in place. They have to study the studies and then look at how to progress from there.

‘If we look at concussion, there are a number of different ways it can happen. Tackling is obviously part of it so it’s a skill that we have got to stay on top of all the time.

‘The biggest grey area is with the ruck and the way it’s played, and subsequently the way it’s refereed as well. There’s definitely scope to improve the techniques that are used to bring it in line with expectations around safety ... I’m not sure laws need to be changed.

‘What happens at the moment is players are flying off their feet left, right and centre. Gone are the days where you have to support your own body weight. Technically you do, but every game you watch now there are not too many rucks where the first man in is supporting his own weight. He’s just blasting his body through the space to create more space.

‘It’s an area of the game that fascinates me because there are so many rucks now, so as a team we need to stay ahead of the game in that area. And momentum is building with people talking about the contact zone. Lots of coaches are talking about the safety around it and because of that I think it’s an area that should be focused on from a World Rugby perspective.’

Discussing the RFU’s decision to back-track on a new tackle law – trialled in the group stages of the Championship Cup before being scrapped – Tunnah said: ‘I think it’s a massive positive. It tells us they’re looking at the outcomes and they’re willing to make changes quickly because it’s not making a difference to safety. There will be less confusion among players and referees and the referees can be more consistent.’

Jason Fox

By Jason Fox

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