Only two games into the season and the Chiefs have half their squad in the casualty ward with two of them ruled out for the season, the Blues are without their skipper in South Africa and the Crusaders have been denied their playmaker for the next two months.

Super Rugby is proving to be merciless. It is inflicting injury at a quite staggering rate with around 25 per cent of the playing base unavailable this weekend.

The Blues currently have seven players in the casualty ward, the Chiefs had an incredible 16 players missing last week, the Hurricanes don't have access to All Blacks Dane Coles, Nehe Milner-Skudder or Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, while both the Crusaders and Highlanders have been forced into a number of changes this week following injuries inflicted in round two.

The first two rounds of Super Rugby have produced a broken jaw for Richie Mo'unga, a broken arm for Nepo Laulala, a broken thumb for Matt Todd, while the likes of Augustine Pulu and Dominic Bird face a few more weeks on the sidelines after damaging themselves in frenetic local derbies.


Nearly every player currently ruled out of action incurred their injury in a collision and it is the escalating intensity and ferocity of the impacts which is causing concern about the longer term welfare of the players.

Rugby's injury toll is mounting at the same time as the players have become heavier, stronger and faster than they have ever been and the suspicion that there is a direct link between increased power and increased injuries is hard to refute.

Props ranged from 113kg to 118kg five years ago, now the best typically range from 118kg and 125kg.

Hookers were usually between 103kg and 110kg in 2012, now they are between 108kg and 115kg and locks tend to have to be around 120kg as opposed to the 115kg they used to be.

George Moala of the Blues looks on. Super Rugby match, Blues v Chiefs at Eden Park. Photo /
George Moala of the Blues looks on. Super Rugby match, Blues v Chiefs at Eden Park. Photo /

This evolution can be seen in the likes of Sam Cane, who came into professional rugby six years ago at 100kg and is now 110kg. Sam Whitelock made his debut in 2010 at 108kg and he's now 122kg.

Perhaps the size and power of the modern game will be best viewed in Johannesburg on Sunday morning where the Blues will have 220kg of explosive power in their midfield coming from Sonny Bill Williams and Rieko Ioane. Not so long ago, the All Blacks didn't have that sort of weight or power in their second row.

Players are being battered, bruised and broken to such an extent now that the question of viability is becoming hard to ignore.

Can the athletes really continue to be pounded the way they are, particularly when the head is increasingly the impact point?

Statistics from the English Premiership show that concussion, for the last four years, has been the most prevalent injury and now accounts for half of all game time that players miss.

New Zealand doesn't keep the same details statistics but few doubt the picture here would be similar.

Nepo Laulala of the Chiefs leaves the field injured during the round two Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Chiefs. Photo /
Nepo Laulala of the Chiefs leaves the field injured during the round two Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Chiefs. Photo /

New Zealand has seen three three high profile players - James Broadhurst, Ben Afeaki and Reggie Goodes - forced to retire prematurely due to concussion, while Kieran Read, Dane Coles and Charlie Ngatai have all had prolonged battles to overcome persistent symptoms.

"As loose forwards a big part of our role is dominating collisions and that is tackle, ball carrying and breakdown and those are all often high impact collisions," says Chiefs captain Cane.

"I don't think you stop to think about it. But if you look back to the game five years again when I first came on, it is definitely trending upwards in physicality and one of the concerns around that I would say is most definitely the increase in head knocks.

"That is purely, I think, from the intensity of the impacts because things are happening faster and the power of the players. One of the best ways to avoid that is to focus on technique and learn how to make adjustments late but you don't always get it right.

"It doesn't really worry me personally about going over the ball and knowing I am going to be hit hard. The area I think is hard is when you are the tackler and you have a low focus on the tackle and there are a couple of soft parts [to aim for] but there are some bloody hard parts ...hips, knees and if you get your head in slightly the wrong place with a big impact... "

As a seasoned professional Cane knows what can go wrong in the tackle area and his personal experience is backed up by research. World Rugby studied more than 1500 elite games between 2013 and 2015 and found that 76 per cent of head injuries occur in the tackle.

The same research found that 73 per cent of those injuries were suffered by the tackler and that if the tackler was upright or high, then it was 40 per cent more likely they would be injured.

Nepo Laulala must wonder if he's cursed after breaking his arm against the Blues last Friday. It was an injury he suffered in a collision and will keep him on the sidelines for up to 12 weeks.

Two years ago, on the eve of the 2016 Super Rugby season kicking off, he suffered an horrendous knee injury at training where, in an accidental collision with a teammate, he managed to tear his anterior and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee, and rip the quadricep muscle off the bone.

That knee injury sidelined him for 13 months and was so bad, that initially his doctor wasn't sure whether he would ever play again.

In a 27-month period, he will have been forced to miss 16 months due to impact-related injuries.