Belfast Telegraph

Rugby tackle ban in schools will destroy game, says Willie Anderson

By Jonathan Bradley

Irish rugby legend Willie Anderson has said the sport could not survive if a proposed move to ban tackling at school level was to come into effect.

A group of 70 doctors and health experts submitted an open letter to the government on Wednesday urging them to consider banning contact in school-level rugby.

The letter said: "The majority of all injuries occur during contact or collision, such as the tackle and the scrum,"

"These injuries which include fractures, ligamentous tears, dislocated shoulders, spinal injuries and head injuries can have short-term, life-long, and life-ending consequences for children."

On the issue of concussion, the letter continued: "A link has been found between repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities, as well as longer term problems.

"Children take longer to recover to normal levels on measures of memory, reaction speed and post-concussive symptoms than adults."

Anderson, a former captain of Ireland and the current head coach of Sullivan Upper, feels that teaching tackle technique is the key to a safer game.

"Contact is always going to be a concern for some people but I just don't see the game surviving if you take it away.

"There are boys that are drawn to the game because of that contact.

"It's a game for all shapes and sizes, unlike maybe football or gaelic, and if you bring in touch rugby at schools then you go away from that.

"For me, with the World Cup being in the UK you're going to see more and more kids wanting to take up the game.

"The issue then is does the demand for coaches outstrip the number we have?

"We don't need to get rid of contact - we need more coaches who can teach children how to tackle properly and safely."

A survey released by World Rugby, the sport's governing body, states that 92% of parents of children aged between seven and 18-years-old feel that the benefits of children playing sport outweighs the risks.

Citing evidence that eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality rates by almost 7.5%, the survey found eight out of 10 parents said they have never prevented their children from participating in an activity because of the risk of injury.

While rugby is presently a sport under the microscope given concerns over player welfare at all levels of the game, the study also found that in Australia only five percent of hospital admissions related to sports were caused by rugby injury, a fifth of the total amassed by cycling. In a letter to the Belfast Telegraph however, former Ulster, Ireland and Lions player Trevor Ringland outlined his genuine concerns for the future of the game as he wrote: "I feel that the game has become too physical and brutal.

"I think there are serious issues that need to be addressed in the way the game of rugby is being played and coached and the reckless attitude of some players in how they approach their own safety and that of their fellow players."

Calling for a greater distinction between how the game is approached at different levels, the former winger said: "In addition, there has to be a clearer separation of the game played at schools and amateur level and the professional game where players are obviously much better prepared physically.

"These concerns need urgently addressed and failure to do so will be placing the entire game at risk in the future."

Anderson agrees, saying it's something he tries to implement at Sullivan who he led to the Danske Bank Schools' Cup final two seasons ago.

"If you have people who are 100kgs tackling people who are 70kgs then there can be a problem, but people say it's a collision sport; they should say it's an avoiding collision sport.

"The All Blacks aren't a side who pummel people; they want to go past a player not through them. That's what I try to teach our boys and what we should have right the way through."

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