The number of players in the Aviva Premiership who have been forced to retire as a result of injury is set to rise for the third successive season, having risen from 13 in 2010-11 to 24 this season – with James Hanks, Olly Morgan, Rory Lawson, Chris Whitehead, Tom Hayes, Olly Kohn, Will Skinner, Andy Hazell and Hugo Southwell all being forced to retire due to career-changing injuries.
Mr Simon Moyes, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital and The Wellington Hospital specialising in sports injuries, comments on the impact such collisions can have on players: “Rugby injuries are becoming more common and more serious and we are seeing the consequences of this from the number of players being forced to retire early. We are particularly seeing increased incidences of severe shoulder injuries, knee injuries and ankle injuries, and this is something I have seen recently amongst the doctors and physiotherapists with whom I work. As injury rates rise, so does the risk of players accumulating multiple micro-injuries, which can pre-dispose to early osteoarthritis of various joints – leading not only to early retirement but also debilitating physical conditions.”
Mr Moyes continues, revealing why the game is becoming more competitive and more dangerous: “The main reason behind these dramatic figures is the training – it is becoming more and more elite and players are now very much in ‘sleep, train, eat’ mode constantly. As they get bigger, stronger and faster when they collide there is more power and kinetic energy and hence such collisions are more likely to result in injuries.
“There are certain ‘tricks’ in the industry that are used by players as they are coming into a collision to make the opponent’s potential injury more severe. Typical examples of this would be pushing down on the top of the back of an opponent’s shoulder as he is coming in for a tackle – this would make the shoulder more likely to dislocate or the tendon tear.
“Similarly, players are also known to use direct impact to the lateral/outer aspect of the knee just below the joint line to evoke further damage – this can produce a fibula fracture or injure the common peroneal nerve here resulting in a ‘dead leg’.
“The game of rugby is evolving very rapidly and is unfortunately becoming more elite and more competitive. Going forwards, a general straw poll view of the potential ways for reducing injury rates is necessary to reduce the severity and frequency of injuries – this would improve the techniques used by players when colliding. The only other line would be for the referees to be more alert to some of the tricks used to exacerbate injuries,” Mr Moyes concludes.