In Defence of Rugby


Main story of the day is doctors becoming concerned about rugby injuries at school.

It’s not a new story and it comes up every few years. As usual when I know something about the subject under discussion there is an amazing amount of garbage in in articles by people who profess to be authorities on the subject. I say garbage because I feel I have a duty to be polite on a blog, but I really do want to use a stronger word.

People are out there saying that every parent’s worst nightmare is for their child to get injured playing rugby.  Not true. From the ages of 10 – 18 I didn’t have nightmares about my kids because I’m quite laid back, I spent quite a lot of time with them and because my kids are fairly sensible. My main fears (falling far short of nightmares) were that they would have a road traffic accident, be mugged on the way to or from school or that they would experiment with drugs.

In all that time although they played rugby union in winter and rugby league in summer they escaped serious injury. The older one was badly concussed on one occasion but he was in a school playground playing what he later described as “a form of rounders” when a clash of heads rendered him more  senseless than usual. It was all to do with being an energetic child and nothing to do with rugby.

They did have rugby-related injuries. They both have broken noses, for instance, and one has a cauliflower ear. The elder one retired from rugby at 21 after breaking his leg. It was the third time he had needed hospital treatment (needing a finger joint screwing together and a cheekbone setting before the leg). The younger one led a charmed life with a cauliflower ear and minor breaks of a thumb and a finger before he need his reconstruction. He has just recovered from the knee operation but is showing no signs of going back to rugby. I can’t say I blame him.

However, at no time were they forced to participate. They went to a state school that, in the main, avoided rugby. I had been hopeless at games and encouraged them in their sporting endeavours but never forced them into anything.  They were both good at martial arts and one was good at running. When they decided they wanted a team sport they decided to give rugby a go. One of them went so far as to get the school to agree to raise a rugby team if he could find 14 other players. He did. Fortunately one of the games teachers was an experienced rugby union coach.

They were a mis-matched group of kids and most of them weren’t good at any sport, they were just easily persuaded. They won the City Championship. They then went on to reach the final of the County Cup and were just edged out in a very close match.

It taught them a lot of valuable lessons about teamwork and hard work.

Yes, kids get injured playing rugby, but at that age I got injured playing hockey, playing in  a ruined house, walking, fighting and being hit by a car.

People do force kids to play rugby – but it’s mainly schools and parents at fault. I can’t, with my hand on my heart, say that the RFU or RFL ever did anything that I considered damaging to my children. In fact they have spent millions on building systems to develop young players and lead them gradually to becoming the best players that they can be.

We saw some dreadful parents, and some dreadful coaches during our time in junior rugby, but I always had the feeling that the governing bodies were over-protective if anything, not the heartless machine that some people are trying to portray.  Perhaps that’s because I’m a dreadful parent. However, my feeling from rugby is that the kids came out better disciplined, harder working and with a sense of self-worth. They also know that you have to work to achieve success, that you call a referee sir and that not everything you read in the papers is true.