Referees, players past and present, and pundits have reacted with sarcasm and disbelief at calls from experts to ban tackling and scrums in British schools rugby up to the age of 18 because of safety concerns.

Professors Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood from the Institute of Health at Newcastle University write in a leading medical journal that most injuries in youth rugby occur due to the collision of elements in the game.

They believe that removing collision from schools rugby is likely to "reduce and mitigate the risk of injury" in pupils.

Referee Nigel Owens, who took charge of the 2015 Rugby World Cup final, was blunt in his response. Owens wonders what will happen next, banning walking to school.


Owen's told Newstalk ZB's Mike Hosking on the Mike Hosking Breakfast that the most important thing in youth rugby is that players are trained properly.

"I'm right quite sure what the benefits of it will be. The most important thing in the game is player safety, which is paramount in all levels of the game, particularly young people. When the kids are coached properly, to do their tackling techniques, the scrum is made as safe as it possibly could, the rugby environment that the kids play in, the safety aspect it is all done to minimalize as much as one can in a physical contest in a sport like rugby the risks of injury," the Welshman told Hosking.

"Unfortunately in contact sports there is an element of risk. There is an element of risk in riding your bike, there is an element of risk in playing any other sport. There is an element of risk playing with your mates on the yard during lunch time in school. So what World Rugby has done over the years and the governing bodies as well is done all they can to minimize that risk as much as it possibly can in the nature of the game that rugby is. I don't think see how taking tackling out of the game is going to have a much more negative response to people being involved in the game than it is a positive response to the game."

Owens says where the research comes from makes a big difference.

"Where have they done the research? Have they done it in a country where coaching is of the top quality and the risks are minimized in that way. What country have the facts and figures come from? To can put a fact or figure to any side of the argument you want to put across.

"You won't find an argument from anymore that there is an element of risk in contact sports. But then there is more risk is people getting fatal accidents on bicycles. There is more risk with a child with obesity and more risk to the health of a child not participating in an active sport when he's sitting in front of a television, eating a pizza, drinking sugary drinks and playing PlayStation for hours and hours and not exercising his body. That is a fact. There is more risks for the ill health of a child that way than there is playing a physical or contact sport like rugby is."

Former England and Gloucester centre, James Simpson-Daniel fears the game will be limited to touch rugby up to the age of 17.

Simpson-Daniel, who was forced to retire prematurely aged 32 through injury three years ago, also adopted a similar sarcastic response in his next Tweet.

The British Medical Journal article went on to say that children who wanted to play contract rugby could continue to do so at clubs outside school, but stressed that schools should not be able to enforce contact rugby.

Professor Pollock wrote: "We call on the chief medical officers to act on the evidence and advise the UK government to put the interests of the child before those of corporate professional rugby unions and remove harmful contact from the school game."

Maggie Alphonsi is another former player who is against the proposal, saying the "benefits far outweigh the perceived risks". It was an argument backed up by this tweet from an account which tries to boost the grass-roots game.

The journal argues that history of concussion is associated with the "lowering of a person's life chances" across a number of measures including low educational achievement and premature death.

Former England captain, Will Carling, however, has offered an alternative to banning tackling.

The method has been adopted in New Zealand and could help reduce harmful contact.