Sports injury experts warned last week that steps need to be taken to ensure children’s safety when they play rugby.
New research led by Newcastle University reveals that serious injuries — including concussion — are most likely to be caused by rugby tackling.
According to the authors of the study, their findings support the recent call to remove tackling and other forms of harmful contact — such as the scrum, ruck and maul — from school rugby.
Lead author Professor Allyson Pollock, director of the Institute of Health and Society at Newcastle University, said: “We need to act now to protect our children from injuries from collision sports. Our evidence shows the high injury rate in rugby for children across all age groups.
“There is also a consensus that collision sports including rugby have higher rates of injury than non-collision contact sports such as football. Rugby has the highest rate of concussion out of any youth sport.
“We know other countries are taking this issue seriously and leading the way. Rule changes have been introduced in youth ice-hockey in Canada as this is the only proven method of quickly reducing the high rates of injury.”
As part of the latest study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the researchers re-examined claims that previous studies had inflated the risk of injury or that removing the tackle from school rugby might lead to an increase in injury rates at later ages. They found no evidence to support these theories.
Instead, the researchers found strong evidence from Canada that removing the “body check” from youth ice-hockey, where a player deliberately makes contact with an opposing player to separate them from the ice-puck, has led to a 67% reduction in concussion risk.
Co-author Graham Kirkwood of Newcastle University said: “Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, governments have a duty to protect children from the risks of injury.
“We are proposing a compromise approach where children as a definable vulnerable group of athletes with unique risks require specific measures as a way of lessening the risk of injury.
“School rugby provides an ideal modifiable environment to implement the safety measure of removing the tackle.”
The research comes at a time when the Rugby Football Union is running a programme of introducing the sport to children in state schools across England.
Professor Pollock added: “All the evidence available on rugby injuries shows there is a high risk of injury and that the tackle is where most of these injuries occur. Chief Medical Officers need to make ministers aware of this evidence and World Rugby and ministers should immediately take a cautionary approach to protect children from avoidable harms by removing the tackle from school rugby.”