The Painful Price of Professionalism; RUGBY SPECIAL New Research Blames Padding for Crippling Injury Crisis
Byline: IVAN SPECK
MAKE a man feel he is invincible and he will try anything. Make him realise his immortality and he will have second thoughts. Strap padding to his body and send him out on to a rugby pitch and you have an injury waiting to happen.
Injuries have doubled in rugby since the game went professional five years ago and research into the problems show that padded shirts and scrum caps have made players overconfident as they fly into tackles.
Between 1993 and 1998 the proportion of players injured for at least one week a season rose from 27 to 47 per cent. Players are clearly faster and fitter but the study's author Professor Michael Garraway said the growing popularity for protective clothing was mostly to blame for the rise in casualties.
'I can hit him harder because I'm protected,' is the theory behind the escalating crisis in rugby union, which last night prompted calls for an urgent meeting between players and Rugby Football Union bosses.
Injuries have become so commonplace in the Zurich Premier-ship this season that rugby is becoming such a squad game that it is testing many a salary cap. At Gloucester, coach Philippe Saint-Andre's resources are so stretched in the front row that the Frenchman has resorted to flying in friend and countryman Serge Simon.
So are we breeding a generation of players who believe themselves indestructible but whose vulneraof whether the blow is delivered by a padded shoulder, forearm, elbow, knee or head.' Similar conclusions are being reached in league and BBC commentator Ray French, a former St Helens and Great Britain forward, is convinced the report, published by Professor Garraway in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is correct. According to the study, the injury rate for professional players is now one for every 59 minutes played. Over the 1997-98 season - the period of the research - nine out of 10 players were injured for a week or more.
'Extra padding gives players a false sense of security, ' said French. 'The game has changed. In my day the protective padding was so flimsy you often avoided confrontation and players tackled each other from two or three yards.
'Now they go in like express trains from 10 metres, often recklessly and it is bound to cause more damage. I do believe the game is becoming more violent and increasing the risk of head and spinal injuries.' Proof, sadly, is not hard to find.
Bradford Bulls halfback Robbie Paul was recently sidelined for six weeks after suffering broken ribs and a punctured lung in a game at Halifax.
In the States, American Football players take the field wearing so much protective armour it is hard to tell whether there is a body underneath. The helmets appear more suited to human cannonballs.
Given the savage nature of the tackling, maybe the analogy is apt.
Until the late 1960s, players wore leather helmets. If Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman had worn one instead of a metal one he might not have been around to endure the 12th concussion of his career last month. …