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Raising awareness and managing players is the only way forward

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By Jonathan Bradley

It was the late, great Jack Kyle who said that rugby used to be a contact sport that in the modern day had become an impact sport.

It's tough to argue with that assessment. The diminutive Kyle would have looked out of place in today's game where the 6ft 4in, 18 stone Welsh star George North is deployed on the wing and as players get bigger, so too do the collisions.

The increase in use of GPS data in recent years - each player's jersey is now fitted with a monitor - has brought some eye-opening data to light.

In Brian O'Driscoll's autobiography released last year, the Irish great revealed that a collision with Wales' Scott Williams during his final Six Nations registered 27Gs.

With 10Gs considered a heavy hit, the incident, which saw Williams dislocate his shoulder and left O'Driscoll crumpled on the field, mimicked the impact of a car crash.

With such collisions now frequent, it's natural that the game will take more and more of a toll on its participants with the worry that impact injuries will continue to rise and rise.

While Darren Cave's AC joint injury, which will see him miss a handful of games but return in early January, is the only one of Ulster's current ailments that was caused by an impact to the upper body, concussions are now the most frequent cause for sitting out.

In the 2013-14 season, the most recent campaign for which figures are available, for every 1,000 hours of rugby played, there were 10.5 concussions reported.

That is, however, compared to 17 in professional boxing and 25 for horse racing.

While an increase in awareness, and reporting, of concussion is a factor, the reality is that the injury is on the up.

With professionalism increasingly well entrenched, players aren't going to get smaller while television companies aren't going to settle for the loss in revenue that would be the product of fewer games.

Spreading awareness through all parts of the game and the use of player management, the kind that will see Irish internationals rested over coming weeks, is the only way forward for a contact sport in which injuries are inevitable.

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