Rugby Union Should Ban Contested Scrums

Article ID: 520825

Released: 24-May-2006 7:30 PM EDT

Source Newsroom: British Medical Journal

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Personal View: Rugby union should ban contested scrums BMJ Volume 332, p 1281

Rugby union should ban contested scrums* argues a senior doctor in this week's BMJ.

James Bourke, a consultant general surgeon at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, has been an honorary medical officer to Nottingham Rugby Football Club for 30 years. In that time, he has experienced seven serious spinal cord injuries, six were related to the contested scrum.

Two of the young players are now wheelchair dependent.

In Australia, no acute spinal cord injuries have occurred in rugby league since contested scrums stopped being allowed in 1996. But injuries continue to occur in rugby union scrums. A recent Australian study found that, between 1997 and 2002, 39% of injured players became permanently dependent on a wheelchair.

The study also looked at the cost of care of a quadriplegic young man over his lifetime and concluded that the laws of scrum engagement in rugby union and the amount of insurance cover for injured players are grossly inadequate.

Rugby union became professional in 1995; players are paid to play and train. Professional rugby union is now often described as an industry. It may be subject to the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974), which requires working practices that are safe and do not put workers at risk. In the under 19 game contested scrums are not allowed.

In Britain, acute spinal cord injuries in rugby union continue to occur, typically associated with scrums at the moment of engagement. Wheelchair dependency among those injured is common, and insurance is inadequate. The rugby football union is known to be concerned about the high level of injury, severity and insurance.

"The incidents involving the two young players who are now wheelchair dependent occurred recently in my experience in rugby union and have caused me to change my opinion on contested scrums," says the author. "The consequences of injury are so great that the continuing risk of injury cannot be accepted."

He believes rugby union should follow the example of rugby league in Australia and ban contested scrums. "Rugby union outlawed the "flying wedge" and the "cavalry charge" as they are potentially dangerous. It should now also outlaw the contested scrum," he concludes.

* In the contested scrum, each set of forwards tries to shove the opponents off the ball. This is more dangerous than the uncontested scrum, in which the players are not allowed to push their opponents away from the spot where the scrum occurs.

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