Modern game 'no more damaging'
The perception that professional rugby players run a greater risk of injury now than ever before is false, according to the latest in-depth findings.
The 2010-11 England Rugby Injury and Training audit, published on Monday, shows the injury rate among professional players has effectively remained stable since the first report was commissioned in 2002.
Although the likelihood of sustaining a match injury rose last season by 16% - from 80 injuries per 1,000 hours in 2009-10 to 93 - that remains within the "normal level" of season-by-season variation.
Last year's fluctuation is related to an increase in injuries that kept players out for a week or less and a small increase in injuries that resulted in more than 84 days' absence.
The bare statistics show that each Aviva Premiership club will lose 1.9 players to a three-week injury after every match of the season.
However, Dr Simon Kemp, the head of sports medicine at the RFU, explained that the absence figures are distorted by the small number of long-term injuries, with half of the injured players back in action after a week.
The study, conducted jointly by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players' Association, also shows that medical and physiotherapy advances have led to a decrease in repeat injuries.
Dr Kemp said: "People like playing and watching rugby union because it is a collision sport. We try and make it as safe as you can while keeping it recognisable as rugby. Despite the perception that players are bigger, faster and stronger, there isn't any evidence that the injury rate has increased in professional rugby since 2002."
The RFU's study into the community game, sponsored by their official insurance brokers Marsh, shows that the risk of injury is significantly reduced at the lower levels of play. Approximately half of all injuries occur in tackles. The next most common cause is running and then the ruck.
"The risk of injury in the community game drops with the decreasing level of competition and with reducing age," Dr Kemp said. "The risk for under-18 schoolboys is about half that of the professional game. For under-10s it drops even further. Rugby is a different game at that level."