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Rugby is arguably the most dangerous contact sport today. The injuries sustained at professional, intermediate and amateur levels are stifling. Which is why leading sports scientists have invested millions of dollars into the research and study of rugby-related injuries over the last five years, primarily for awareness and prevention, but also to compare the results with those of other contact sports.

A 1996 study into rugby injuries by the Department of Psychology at Rhodes University, South Africa, found through a control study that injured players, monitored on their memory, aptitude and cognitive abilities at the beginning and again at the end of the season, had impaired mental functioning comparative to their uninjured teammates. Even more alarmingly, the uninjured players featured poorer than those in non-contact sports such as tennis and swimming.

A statistical survey found that 20% of all rugby injuries result in concussions. Although higher numbers of injuries were reported at the amateur and intermediate levels, the most serious injuries were sustained at higher levels of the game.

The University of New South Wales, Australia, last year announced a major launch into the study of rugby injuries. The survey will record information from more than 375 players in 25 NSW-based teams, from schoolboy to university level so as to gain an accurate depiction of the frequency and occurrence of injuries across the age spectrum. The study also aims to improve the skills of coaches and their role in the prevention of serious injuries.

A British study showed that of the 443 spinal injuries reported between 1985 and 1995, 18% of them occurred through rugby. Of these 79 cases, 70% have resulted in serious paralysis. Another statistic compiled from spinal injury units around the country showed that players under the age of 26 sustained 50% of all serious rugby injuries. Again, most of the reported injuries were at school and club level, and not at regional, provincial or national levels.

But new findings have contradicted this theory. Professor Michael Garraway, of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, gathered information on 1705 (98%) of 1736 eligible players from nine Edinburgh schools, as well as 1169 (96%) of 1216 eligible players from the 26 Senior Southern District clubs, prior to the 1993-1994 season, and found that schoolboy rugby is significantly safer than club rugby.

Apart from the mouthguard, protective gear in the game of rugby was always frowned upon. Equipment such as padded vests to soften the blows of tackles and headgear to prevent “cauliflower ears” and head injuries, were viewed as unnecessary and irrelevant to the sport. But today, players are proud of donning their vests, headgear and mouthguards and, as a result, play the game more fiercely.