In my previous article I spoke about the importance of tackling concussion head on. The solution to most problems is thinking about how the issue occurs and dealing with that first. So why are concussions more common in the modern game?
If you didn’t get a chance to read my previous article on concussion, you can read it here:
There is one reason and one reason only
Rugby has evolved massively since turning professional in 1995. From sports science to the tight rugby kits which are ultra lightweight and hard to grab onto. Yet these changes have only aided in bringing rugby into the 21st century, whereas other aspects could be seen as damaging.
A controversial aspect of the modern game is the size of players. If we go back to the 2015 world cup we can see that each of the Welsh backs would weigh 100kg (15st 10lb, 221lb) on average. One of the Welsh heavyweights is George North who weighs in at 17 stone. If we look back on previous Welsh wingers, like Gerald Davies, he weighed under 12 stone…
So what do bigger players have to do with the increase of concussions?
A collision can be the equivalent of a car crash
Rugby players have increased in size due to hitting the weights and nutrition, allowing them to lift heavier and recover quicker. Not only does this make them stronger and heavier, it also makes them quicker. A perfect example of a rugby player with all these qualities was Jonah Lomu, who was one of the first rugby ‘giants’ to play on the international scene. Back then, he was a freak of nature but nowadays it common to see big brutes all over the pitch.
So what happens when two rugby players of the same weight collide? If the two rugby players are running at full speed the force of the impact can be similar to a 30 mile per hour car crash… Which is pretty insane when you think about it. A prime example of this can be seen on Scott Williams tackle on Brian O’Driscoll, which was recored as one of the most powerful tackles in world rugby.
The correlation between the size of the players and increase of concussions is therefore easy to see. Rugby players are getting quicker, stronger and heavier and therefore when they collide the power in the tackle can cause whiplash and makes concussion more frequent and more dangerous. The harder the brain takes a knock, the longer the recovery and more serve consequences. Additionally, whilst the extra muscle provides protection for limbs and joints, the head cannot be made any stronger. It will always remain the weakest part of the body.
Will rugby players get smaller?
On average rugby players nowadays are considered giants but they have been bigger. The England team from the 2003 world cup, boast many heavier players. For example Will Greenwood is 10kg heavier than Jonathan Joseph and on average the current team is 1kg lighter per player. So this does show that rugby players are starting to focus more on talent, speed and agile rugby rather than sheer size and power.
At the end of the day, rugby will always continue to get bigger. It will never be a weight category sport at senior and professional level, thus there is little that can be done to limit the weight of the players. Big tackles are part of the modern game, we just need to learn how to handle them and how to execute them safely. Which is why tackling is the more important element of preventing concussion, rather than telling Joe Cokanasiga to bulk down. Without his power and size, he would not be as interesting to watch and I would not want the game to lose its physical edge. These physical beasts need to know how to control their power in the tackle and ultimately this would reduce concussions in the modern game.
In my next article, I will be reviewing the negatives of wearing headgear solely to prevent concussion.
Written by Sam Powell