Six Nations — a hymn to rugby


In the President’s Box, watching South African Rugby — photo: A Brooks

One of Rugby Union’s big, international events – The Six Nations Championship – kicked off this weekend, and we’re looking forward to the great sport the event will offer through mid-March (the last competitions take place March 18).

I have a soft spot for rugby (union and league), though it is a sport I never played myself (a middle- and long-distance track runner, I would have been eaten up and spit out on the rugby pitch). I’ve lived at different times in southern Africa and New Zealand, where I was exposed to the glorious traditions of both Springbok and All Blacks rugby.  And I did my sports medicine training under Dr. Lyle Micheli, whom many know played rugby well into his sixties.  Inevitably, one gets to take care of plenty of rugby athletes when spending some time with Dr. Micheli.

Rugby is a sport that combines collision with endurance, fierce play with fluid movement.  It is also a sport about which it has been written:  “Rugby is a game for barbarians played by gentlemen. Football is a game for gentlemen played by barbarians.”  I don’t intend on offending fans of soccer/football, but I do want to emphasize the special character of so many of the players, coaches, referees and others I see in the sport of rugby.

“Building character since 1886”:  that’s how World Rugby, the sport’s international governing body states their mission.

Consequently I have become, over time, increasingly involved with USA Rugby and have written several of these CJSM blog posts on various issues related to the sport.  My interest continues to grow.

This personal interest parallels the interest CJSM has in publishing research related to the sport.For instance, in our “Published Online First” format, we recently posted an interesting new study entitled, Depression, Anxiety and Alcohol Use in Elite Rugby League Players Over a Competitive Season. The authors studied rugby league players in the elite Australasian National Rugby League (NRL) and found lower rates of depression, but higher rates of generalized anxiety and alcohol use, than in the general population.  They conclude that clubs may ‘consider implementing regular screening for these disorders.’

This is an aspect of the sport of rugby I have increasingly appreciated over the years: the proactive culture of player safety.  To wit, in these 2017 Six Nations matches, referees will be enforcing with new zeal existing guidelines addressing head & neck tackling.  This is a World Rugby governing body move that the NY Times describes as follows:

“It is not that the rules have been changed. Tackling an opponent around the head or neck has long been illegal. The change is in the refereeing practice, which follows new guidelines issued by World Rugby, the game’s governing body.

A player deemed to have made “reckless” contact with an opponent’s head, whether intentionally or not, will be penalized at minimum by a yellow card — requiring a 10-minute suspension from the match — and potentially by a red, which will prompt a sending-off for the rest of the match.”

I would point out other initiatives that have developed over the last several years, ranging from the blue card system in NZ rugby (used when a player is concussed), to the incomparable BokSmart program that has placed South Africa among the world leaders in formulating sport safety initiatives.

And so, we are indeed looking forward to seeing the sport in the Six Nations tournament, but we are also looking forward to seeing the impact of these new guidelines on player safety/welfare.  And perhaps there is some researcher looking into this in a rigorous manner — if so, perhaps we’ll one day see the study in print….in CJSM?!


About sportingjim
I work at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio USA, where I am a specialist in pediatric sports medicine. My academic appointment as an Associate Professor of Pediatrics is through Ohio State University. I am a public health advocate for kids' health and safety. I am also the Deputy Editor for the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine.

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