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

Rugby union should not ban contested scrums

Bourke gives an interesting account of his personal experience in
managing serious neck injuries over 30 years at Nottingham Rugby Football
Club. He also quotes from Carmody et al’s review of spinal cord injuries
in Australian footballers from 1997 to 2002 (Medical Journal of Australia
2005; 182: 561-4).

Bourke correctly points out that 52 players over this period suffered
acute spinal cord injuries. However, only 23 of these were in rugby union
and of these only 7 injuries occurred during the scrum, 6 occurring in
rucks and mauls and 9 occurring during the tackle (6 in ball-carriers, 3
in tacklers). Of the injuries to ball carriers, half were the result of
multiple tacklers (2-on-1 tackles or “gang” tackles). If these injuries
were to be prevented then in addition to banning contested scrums, we
should also ban rucks, mauls and tackling, leaving us with a situation
resembling touch rugby. This I am sure would not be acceptable to players
and fans alike.

Rugby football like many sports and other activities is subject to
personal risk and players participate with understanding of this. What is
needed is to ensure that referees are adequately qualified so that they
have control over the game including the scrum and that front row players
are trained in this specialist role. The issue of insurance is one that
clearly needs to be addressed in order that players at every level are
supported adequately. Finally, it is my understanding that contested
scrums are permitted in the under 19 game currently and although we have a
duty to look out for the interests of children playing sports, it would be
unrealistic to expect a 19-year-old to compete in the adult game without
previous experience of the contested scrum - surely this would lead to a
greater incidence of injury at this age?

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

30 May 2006
David M Bunting
Senior House Officer, Neurosurgery
Hurstwood Park Neurological Centre, Haywards Heath