Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Illegal Collision Tackles in Rugby Causes More Injuries (Sports Med Res)


Monday, March 17, 2014

Illegal Collision Tackles in Rugby Causes More Injuries

Collapsed scrums and collision tackles: what is the injury risk?

Roberts SP., Trewartha G., England M., Stokes KA. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2014;0:1-6.

Take Home Message: Illegal collision tackles cause the most injuries per contact and weeks missed due to injury. Six percent of scrums, a relatively controllable event, collapse; however, the propensity for injury is 4 times higher and the severity is 6 times greater than non-collapsed scrums.

Medical personnel rely on injury surveillance data to better understand the frequency and causes of injuries in rugby. However, prior studies are limited to professional levels, which may not be applicable to community rugby games. Therefore, the authors investigated the propensity of specific contact events to cause injury in community-level rugby. Community rugby player’s that participated in the Rugby Football Union levels 3 through 9 were included in this 3 year study (46 clubs in 2009/2010, 67 clubs in 2010/2011, and 76 clubs in 2011/2012). The authors classified clubs as semi-professional (levels 3-4), amateur (levels 5-6), or recreation/social levels (levels 7-9). Ten matches per group were filmed to identify and record contact events (i.e., collision tackles, tackles, rucks, mauls, lineouts, and scrums). Medical staff completed and returned injury forms, which recorded injury event, severity, location, and time loss due to injury. Semi-professional players had the greatest incidence of injuries (17 injuries/1000 hours) compared with amateur level (13 injuries/1000 hours) and recreation/social level (11 injuries/1000 hours). Among the three groups, semi-professional players also had the greatest number of contact events with the exception of scrums and lineouts, which were similar between groups. For all groups the propensity for injury was greatest for illegal collision tackles. Semi-professional level suffered more injuries per contact (1.5 injuries/1000 contact events) compared with amateur level (1.1 injuries/1000 contact events) and recreation/social level (1.2 injuries/1000 contact events); however, there were fewer injuries due to illegal collision tackles among semi-professional players (7 injuries/1000 contact events) compared with amateur (35 injuries/1000 contact events) and recreation/social players (26 injuries/1000 contact events). More weeks were missed due to collision tackles (109 weeks/1000 events) and tackles (19 weeks/1000 events) compared to any other contact event. In both tackle and collision tackles the ball carrier missed more weeks due to injury compared to the tackler. One last interesting finding was that collapsed scrums were 4 times more likely to result in an injury that resulted in 6 times the number of weeks missed compared with non-collapsed scrums. The percentages of collapsed scrums were similar between semi-professional (6%), amateur (6%), and recreation/social level (5%).

Illegal collision tackles poses the greatest injury risk in community tackles. Collision tackles caused 5 times more weeks out than the second leading cause of injuries, legal tackles. This insinuates that the collision tackles are frequent and the rules need to be better enforced. Additionally, whether the tackle was legal or not the ball handler had more weeks out due to injury compared with the tackler. This is similar to other sports such as football, where the ball carrier may not be ready for the hit. Another concerning point was that while scrums had similar incidence of injury compared with mauls, lineouts, and rucks, collapsed scrums had a higher propensity of injury and severity per event compared to non-collapsed scrums. Given that the scrum is a controllable contact event there should be continued focus on reducing scrum collapses to decrease the risk of injury. It was interesting to note that semi-professional level had more injuries, and more weeks lost due to injury; however, they had the lowest amount of collision tackles. This could be due to a number of reasons. For example, semi-professional players compete at a higher level and are more skilled, referees working the higher level games may have more control over the game, or lower level players do not have quality tackling skills. Medical personal should use this information to better understand the extent of the injury problems and educate players, coaches, and referees on how to reduce the risk of injury.

Questions for Discussion: Do you think those playing at higher levels have better tackling techniques? What aspects of the legal tackle do you think causes the injury? Do you think the results from England apply to college and community teams in the United States?

Written by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

Related Posts:

Roberts SP, Trewartha G, England M, & Stokes KA (2014). Collapsed scrums and collision tackles: what is the injury risk? British Journal of Sports Medicine PMID: 24516009


Jake Marshall said...

Good to see some rugby research on here!

Melissa DiFabio said...

As an athletic trainer and a former rugby player, I always love to see research conducted on rugby athletes! It is a truly interesting sport, as many rugby athletes from the United States don't pick it up until college or beyond, yet there are many levels on which an individual can play, as noted in the article. As with any collision sport, one expects there will be injuries. It was not surprising that illegal tackles caused more injury, as they are dangerous by definition and thus illegal in the game. With regard to the amount of injuries between the semi-professional, amateur, and recreational athletes, I wonder if the semi-professional had more injuries that resulted in more time out of the sport because they are more likely to have team coverage from an athletic trainer at this higher level, who may have drawn out a rehabilitation program, instead of a simple "cleared" or "not cleared" as what may be more likely in the case of recreational athletes. I think what is quite impressive about the data of this article is that the number of injuries compared to the number of exposures that resulted in time out of the sport is so low for a sport that does not use any kind of protection (other than a mouthguard). It was mentioned that the ball carrier is more likely to be injured in a collision tackle; I think it would be interesting to compare these ball carriers' with american football ball carriers' injury rates. I worked in a private school with 5-12 grade students, with full lower and upper school football programs. I think the data collected in this article speaks to the technique of rugby tackling and how it translates into lower injury rates; it would be interesting to see a study that teaches these techniques to football players and document the injury rates afterwards. It could be a great preventative injury tool for football athletes. Great article, really got me thinking!

Jane McDevitt said...


You brought up a lot of interesting points. I would imagine that there is consistent/full time coverage for semi-professional rugby players compared to rec rugby, which would make sense as to why semi-professionals had so much more time between injury and return to play. I think your research idea is great! If you can compare the tackling techniques to football this study could see which sports tackling techniques lead to better outcomes, and if you train a football team or 2 to learn and utilize rugby techniques you can compare them to rugby tackling techniques, and standard football tackling techniques to investigate if the new training would help decrease injuries. Really great idea!

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