Rugby’s physicality hitting the wrong note

Seamus Duke on Sport

There was a time when the Six Nations Rugby Championships were one of the sporting highlights of the year for me. I am certainly not a rugby expert but the intensity and excitement of these games every year was always something I looked forward to – but not anymore.

  The players at the top level in rugby are now so fit and huge that the collisions are brutal and the amount of players who are receiving serious injuries in every big game now is frightening.

  The game between Ireland and France last weekend is a perfect example of where the game is going. It was a brutal game full of monster hits, and to add to that the refereeing was terrible. Dave Kearney, Mike McCarthy, Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien were all badly injured (although O’Brien’s injury was a hamstring strain). The players now are taking so many big hits in every game that it is only a matter of time before we are going to have a major tragedy at a big rugby match.

  I listen to the debates on this with interest and there is no doubt that the situation with regard to concussion has improved in recent years, but there are far bigger problems than that. Johnny Sexton is one of the best players that we have seen in many decades but he has come in for some battering in the past few years. I would have great respect for Donal Lenihan as a pundit and just a couple of weeks ago he told RTE Radio that if Johnny Sexton was his son he would not allow him to play anymore, which was a fairly strong thing to say.

  In the World Cup last year 33 players had to go home after sustaining injuries in the pool games alone, which is an unbelievable statistic. The facts are that the players are bigger, stronger and fitter than they ever were before and unless the people who run the game do something about it the situation is going to get worse. What will happen is that parents will be very wary about letting their sons start playing the game if it is too dangerous – and if that happens then rugby will be in big trouble.    

  As it is, on the field of play Ireland are struggling and the amount of top class players who are out injured is certainly a factor. I also note that Robbie Henshaw will not be at Connacht next season, which is a pity. But who would deny the Athlone man a few extra bob in his pocket and the chance of a few major trophies –although I wonder is Leinster is the best place for him to go? Time will tell.