Tyrone Howe: Increase in injuries a real pain in the back
The knees of Stephen Ferris, Sean O’Brien and David Wallace, the calves of Nick Easter and Tom Wood, the head of Jamie Heaslip, and Lewis Moody’s entire body are all giving their physio teams plenty of work going into the World Cup.
More worrying for the host nation is the ankle of star All Black number eight, Kieran Read. What is it currently about backrowers and injuries?
The nature of back row play has always put flankers and number eights in the firing line, as they put their bodies through hell, living rugby life on the edge. But I am convinced that the level of injuries is escalating in these specific positions. Hands up, I lack empirical evidence, but it cannot just be coincidence?
The traditional roles of six, seven, and eight have been evolving since professionalism kicked in. There has been a merging of roles – no longer the destructive six, the link between forwards and backs wearing number seven, and the cool head of a number eight. All three positions are key ball-carriers, lineout exponents, compete for turnovers on the ground, and are the most explosive tacklers on the team. They are either taking or giving out serious physical punishment for eighty minutes.
Their bodies are being put under such pressure that often those same bodies simply say stop and raise the white flag.
Nevertheless, their pain thresholds defy belief, they are genuine leaders and, for me, the true warriors of the sport. I grew up on tales of Fergus Slattery, watched an incredible Andy Ward in full flight, and currently marvel at the bravery of Moody, Ferris and the indomitable Richie McCaw.
Modern day gladiators who gain the respect and cheers of the baying crowd. The backrow will have a major say in who wins the 2011 Rugby World Cup.