It’s always concerning when a player goes down injured and stays down injured. It’s even worse in slow-motion. When you can spot the very moment that they lose consciousness, or feel a limb dislocate. When their body hits the turf and the play goes on at 100mph around them and the fallen player remains motionless.
It happened at the World Cup Final. Maro Itoje’s swinging arm connected with Kyle Sinckler’s temple and he was gone. In a recent interview, Sinckler still says he remembers nothing from that day.
Whilst concerning to see, players spending extended periods in the hands of medical staff is not uncommon. This was the case with Michael Fatialofa for Worcester Warriors during their 62-5 defeat to Saracens on Saturday. However, this was more serious. Fatialofa’s injury paused the game for 15 minutes, before the former Hurricanes man was carried off and taken to St Mary’s Hospital.
There he stayed the night in the Intensive Care Unit, and this morning it has been revealed that the 27-year-old has undergone surgery to relieve bruising and swelling on his spinal cord, which has been successful.
Fatialofa is in a stable condition, but once again this will lead to a re-raising of the debate on tackling. A debate to which, at the moment, there seems no clear answer.
Rugby, by its very nature, is a contact sport, and there is no way in which you can negate that. Whenever you have two men weighing well-over 100kg running at each other for 80 minutes, the game is always going to have an issue with serious injuries. It’s inescapable.
Part of me is inclined to say “that’s life”: players know what they’re bargaining for, and most of them wouldn’t have it any other way anyway, so let’s leave it as it is. But then I know, in my heart of hearts, had Fatialofa suffered paralysis or something worse, then this would have been a completely different article. It’s a genuine conundrum.
Michael Fatialofa had been on for only a minute, so you can’t bring fatigue into it; and it seems he dropped his head when he went into the contact, highlighting how the occurrence injuries cannot exclusively be pinned on the actions of the tackler.
I genuinely don’t know what the answers are to this ongoing debate. But whilst players continue to pick up potential life-threatening injuries – and they will – it will be a discussion that will continue to follow the sport.
By Will Sewell.