Player safety is the buzz phrase in modern rugby. For the RFU, for World Rugby and for clubs themselves, keeping their players safe is, publicly at least, their priority. Why, then, are players like Thomas Ramos and Stuart Hogg turning out for their club sides just one week after returning from the Rugby World Cup?
Statistically, according to an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medical, a professional rugby union player is more likely than not to sustain a serious concussion every 25 matches played. The general guideline is that if you suffer ten concussions, you should not play again.
That a player like Owen Farrell, aged 28, at the peak of his powers, has already played 284 professional games of rugby in his career, then, should be a worry. It is not hard maths.
With teams like Saracens reaching the European and Premiership finals last year, only to be hurled straight into England’s World Cup preparation and spat out the other side of the tournament eleven games of international rugby later, from the frying pan into the Premiership fire, the pace is unlikely to slow.
Such a relentless schedule is, frankly, unsafe. It is also counterproductive. After the 2017 Lions tour, another summer of high intensity rugby, multiple English players, thrown immediately back into Premiership action, failed to sustain their previously excellent form.
You will recall, that it was the 2017-2018 season that saw the wheels temporarily come off Eddie Jones’ team, as their overplayed, under-rested squad lost six consecutive matches.
Ireland, on the other hand, less battered from the domestic season (due to the IRFU’s central contracting agreements and hands on control of provincial club selection policy) went on to win a Grad Slam, beat the All Blacks and see Leinster crowned European champions. Players are not machines – rest matters.
Eddie Jones knows this only too well. This week, reflecting on England’s World Cup final defeat, he conceded, “I should have refreshed the team for the final.
“We started the game a little bit off, lacking a tiny bit of energy because we’d played four big games in a row. That’s the reality of it – we just came unstuck.”
But how many of those players are likely to get that refreshment? Should Saracens be docked 35 points and be facing relegation, are their England stars really going to be rested? If Leicester continue to flounder will Johnny May, Ben Youngs and George Ford not be pressed into action? Will Exeter not want to capitalise on Saracens’ position?
It is a cutthroat, competitive world in which players are the commodities needed to achieve success. Alternatively, Beaudan Barrett, like Dan Carter before him, is set for a sabbatical. Expect him to return as electric as ever, whilst in the meantime England’s World Cup stars grind it out in the Premiership mud.
Written by Joe Ronan.