With the serious physical demands it puts on players, rugby is a sport in which the risk of injury is relatively high. According to the Sports Injury Bulletin, serious injuries may average as high as two per game, while evidence also suggests injury rates are increasing. While acknowledging the physical nature of the sport, the International Rugby Board, or IRB, attempts to protect players by introducing a number of specific rules into the Laws of the Game.
Clothing and Equipment
The basic rugby playing kit consists of a playing jersey, shorts and underwear, and socks and boots, but players are permitted to supplement this with other items that help protect their bodies. These additional items include shin guards and ankle supports, shoulder pads, head guards, mouth guards and jockstraps.
According to the Sports Injury Bulletin, the tackle is by far the most dangerous event in rugby, with the act of either tackling or being tackled leading to 59 per cent of all in-game injuries. The IRB rules outlaw some methods of tackling most likely to cause injury. For example, any tackle in which the tackler’s arm strikes the player being tackled above the line of his shoulders is considered high and will be penalised. Another extreme type of tackle also banned is the “spear tackle,” in which the tackler lifts his opponent into the air and attempts to drive him headfirst towards the ground. Players are also not permitted to tackle another player while he is in the air.
Scrums, which take place to restart play after certain kinds of stoppage, are another occasion when players can be injured. The IRB has attempted to regulate the scrum to help ensure player safety. In a scrum, eight members of each team line up and push against each other to try to gain possession of the ball. IRB rules do not permit players to attempt to lift opponents off their feet or force them upward. Players also are not permitted to intentionally collapse the scrum, an act that would be extremely dangerous for the three players in direct contact with the opposition. As the scrum takes place, it is carefully observed by the referee, who can stop play if he sees a potentially dangerous situation occurring.