Injuries have always been omnipresent in rugby, however it seems now more than ever international players are out for increasingly extended periods of time. This has become particularly obvious as an England fan recently thanks to a string of serious long-term injuries to key players.
The likes of Tom Croft, Dan Cole, Manu Tuilagi and Geoff Parling (all British & Irish Lions in 2013) have all been out with long-term injuries over the last 12 months, whilst a number of other England regulars like Joe Launchbury have also missed out through injury.
For me this begs the question as to whether the current crop of internationals are being asked to play too many games each year? Take England for example, between the Six Nations, end of season tour and autumn internationals, regular starters can be expected to play 12 international games a season on top of 20+ club games.
Now 30-35 games a year may not sound like an excessive number of top level appearances for a top level athlete, however in a game as brutal as rugby it appears to be an increasing issue. On top of the top flight games played, you also have to account for warm-ups, brutal pre-seasons regimes and training between matches.
Just look at England lock Courtney Lawes for example. In 2014 he played a total of one pre-seasion and 33 top flight games, including 11 appearances for England and 22 for Northampton Saints. These games included five Six Nations appearances in addition to a domestic and European cup final. It doesn’t matter who you are, that kind of gruelling schedule is going to take it’s toll on you.
On a number of occasions last season Lawes was thrown straight back into action within a week of picking up head knocks that caused him to be removed from the field of play during England internationals. For Lawes, his 2013/14 season ended on 21st June against the All Blacks, and his 2014/15 season started again 29th August against Newport Gwent Dragons.
This means that during the entirety of 2014 Lawes had just two months off from competitive rugby, however still had to make it through a brutal pre-season during this ‘rest period’. This meant Lawes was playing in 33 out of 42 potential weeks in 2014 which seems ridiculous for a player expected to bring so much physicality to games including two cup finals.
It seems pretty obvious that these kinds of gruelling schedules are doing players absolutely no good whatsoever. Just look at Dan Cole and Manu Tuilagi at Leicester who had both returned from injury for brief stints before suffering recurrences that resulted them being sidelined once more. The debate though is not how to get them back to full fitness again, but on whether they will be available for England’s Six Nations opener in a few weeks time.
It seems likely that these issues are only going to be exacerbated in 2015 with players gearing up for the World Cup and international coaches expecting even more from their teams. The concern now is that it looks like players are only going to continue to be subjected to increasingly hectic schedules rather than being given the necessary recuperation periods they require.
There will always be naysayers who claim these are rugby players and therefore they should act like men. To me this couldn’t be more stupid! International players these days are often treated like car crash victims after big games such are the impacts they sustain whilst playing. It seems to me like this is just one huge law suit waiting to happen (just look at what’s happening in the NFL right now).
This isn’t a suggestion to reduce the impacts or physicality of rugby as that is what makes this game so unique, it is simply just an effort to highlight that maybe players, particularly regular internationals maybe need a bit more recuperation time than they currently receive.
Do you think more should be done to help encourage better player welfare?