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

S.O.S - Save our scrums

Whilst I acknowledge and understand the concerns that Dr Bourke
expresses regarding the safety of scrums I have reservations about several
elements of his claims to dispense with competitive scrums. He is
undoubtedly an expert I the surgical field but I question whether he has
the same knowledge and passion relating to the rugby field. I have watched
first class rugby week-in, week-out for over 15 years and have only, on
rare occasions seen a player injured during scrums.

I also believe his study findings hold strong parallels with the MMR
“scaremongering” study published a few years ago. A very small minority of
children suffered adverse outcomes from the vaccine, while thousands were
successfully protected from MMR, heralded an outcry that the MMR vaccine
was unsafe and has had a detrimental affect on her immunity as a result.
Dr Bourke’s discussion cites 6 or 7 players, who, through his work with
Nottingham rugby clubs have suffered catastrophic neck injuries, rendering
them paralysed for life. As a medical student I sympathise greatly with
these individuals as I have seen myself the immense impact such injuries
have on families. However, 6 or 7 individual injuries is a very small
proportion out of the number of successful scrums that take place, week
after week.

A typical game may contain 20 scrums. A typical league of 12 teams
would therefore have 120 scrums held during a weekend fixture card.
Throughout the UK there must be well over 50 leagues which would bring the
total weekly scrum total to at least 6000 scrums. Over a season this
equates to 132,000 scrums based on each team playing each other twice.
This is also a very conservative estimate. In this context the figures
quoted by the study only support rugby lovers’ arguments that the scrum is
not only an integral part of rugby’s heritage, but also a very SAFE
element of the game. To erase scrums form the game would only condemn the
game to the sporting scrapheap.

Far from stopping scrummaging, we should encourage people involved in
the game to ensure it remains a safe element. Funding should be targeted
to ensure referees are well equipped to assess and judge the ability of
players to scrumage safely and to ensure engagement time is kept to a
minimum. In addition, club coaches should receive regular training to
ensure they are delivering safe scrumaging techniques to their players.
The WRU also has a very sensible policy of introducing competitive
scrumaging to youngsters in a progressive manner. Younger players do not
complete at all in scrums, where as the older you become the more you are
allowed to compete, until, by youth level fully competitive scrumaging is
allowed. This helps ensure that players learn how to scrumage safely from
an early age.

Injuries are a negative element of all sports, and neck injuries can
be the most life changing of them all. But all aspects of life contains
danger and risk. We must all be free to choose if we wish to take that
risk by playing rugby. Please save our scrums and with it, Rugby Unions
traditions and heritage.

David Gwynfor Samuel

Merthyr Tydfil

Competing interests:
None declared

Competing interests: No competing interests

02 June 2006