Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Personal views

Rugby union should ban contested scrums

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 25 May 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:1281

Lack of perspective

EDITOR- The scrum is an integral part of rugby union. It is both a
powerful offensive weapon for attacking play and also a defensive skill in
denying your opponents clean ball. James Bourke is not the first to
express concern over the occurrence of serious injuries in rugby union.

Bourke refers to spinal injuries occurring at ‘engagement’ of the
scrum. During engagement it is estimated that more than two thirds of a
ton are shared across the front row of the scrum.(3) This is a large force
and theoretically could exceed the structural capabilities of the cervical

Studies have been carried out by the Refereeing and Laws Committee of
the Canadian Rugby Union to determine the type and frequency of injuries.
An injury was defined as an incident that prevented a player from
completing a game or taking part in any future game. 13% of injuries
occurred during the scrum, 23% in rucks and mauls and 43% occurred during
tackling.(4) The scrum is a relatively controlled environment but tackling
represents an unknown entity for both the tackler and the player being
tackled. Taking this into account, would Bourke want to impose a ban on

As a rugby player with greater than 20 years playing experience, I
have never witnessed any spinal cord injury (let alone one related to the
scrum) on the rugby field. Whilst I am not naïve enough to believe these
injuries never occur, I think a sense of perspective should be applied.
There is a risk of injury with all competitive sport but we play as we
believe the risks to be outweighed by the enormous pleasure we gain from
that sport. What is certain is that there is no strong evidence to ban
contested scrums in rugby union and doing so would lead to the death of
the game.

1. Bourke JB. Rugby union should ban contested scrums. BMJ 2006;

2. Silver JR. Injury to spine sustained in rugby. BMJ 1984; 2: 473

3. Milburn PD. Biomechanics or rugby union scrummaging. Technical and
safety issues. Sports Med 1993; 16(3): 168-79

4. International Rugby Football Board Directive. Concussion 1985;

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

06 June 2006
Abdul Zubairu
F1 / House Officer
Accident and Emergency Department, Whiston Hospital, St Helens. L35 5DR