Head-injury rates on sevens circuit will fuel UK push for tackling ban.

The past few months haven't been great for rugby's reputation. Around the world the sport has been under siege from various groups eager to suggest the inherent injury dangers are too high for the game to be encouraged as a legitimate pursuit.

There is expected to be more challenging news on that front in the next month or so when it is believed a report will be published in the British Medical Journal, detailing injury rates on the World Sevens circuit. The inside word is that the report won't make for easy reading - and the damage being inflicted on the players is surprisingly high.

With highly credible doctors in the UK urging the Government to ban tackling in rugby and evidence mounting to create a virtually undeniable link between repeated head knocks and possible longer term health consequences, rugby has a massive image problem.

With so much negative publicity, administrators in New Zealand are a little wary about what impact this might have on junior registrations.


The battle to persuade kids to play rugby is hard enough as it is against a backdrop of a near hysterical, parental preoccupation with safety. When trampolines have to be bought with safety nets, children driven to school and under no circumstances is anyone allowed to climb a tree, rugby looks awfully like a loaded gun.

A generation of "soccer moms" could be the legacy of rugby's tainted reputation unless the sport begins collectively balancing the picture.

Even rugby's most staunch supporters need some reassurance that things haven't spiralled out of control. And on that front, encouraging evidence has come out of England.

The Rugby Football Union, in conjunction with the English Premiership clubs and Players Association, have been compiling comprehensive injury data since 2002.

Their latest report, covering the 2014-2015 season, shows that the volume of injuries remained stable. There has been no dramatic rise in the number of players being injured in any given season and for all that the players continue to get bigger and more powerful, they aren't destroying each other as a consequence.

The headline statistic for the fourth year in succession will be that concussion is the most prevalent injury in the league - accounting for 17 per cent of all injuries. As the report's authors observe, however, the fact concussion is rising and all other non-concussion injuries are not, they strongly believe is the result of better detection, diagnosis and reporting.

"It is likely that the continued focus on improving concussion awareness among players, coaches, referees and medical staff and the development of more inclusive and specific criteria that lead to a diagnosis of concussion as part of the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) process have both contributed to this continued rise in concussion incidence."

In other words, the game is not changing either tactically, technically or physically to such as extent as to make the head more vulnerable. Better education and awareness is leading to players, coaches and medics to be more vigilant around players with head knocks.

There are, clearly, risks attached to playing rugby but the evidence coming out of England is that they are no more severe or prevalent now than they were 14 years ago.