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You play until you drop in the modern rugby game

By Peter Bills

You wonder at times if the modern day world of rugby union has gone completely mad.

In almost every country, players are being smashed to pulp, beaten up in a way that, if such assaults took place in the street, the perpetrators would probably get 12 months inside.

More and more games are being crammed into the schedule, more and more money and a decreasing number of top quality players being chased by clubs, provinces and rugby officials around the world.

Sitting back and watching this bizarre spectacle is the human sporting equivalent of studying chickens running round with their heads cut off.

From England, come regular stories of top quality players being lost to the game for weeks or months on end. Leicester’s British and Irish Lions flank forward Tom Croft looks unlikely to play any part in the forthcoming 6 Nations Championship.

The 25-year-old injured his shoulder against South Africa last November and the diagnosis is worse than first feared.

In France last week, human cattle known as rugby players were transported the length and breadth of the country to play two tough French Championship matches in just four days

Biarritz, who play Ulster at Ravenhill next Saturday in the potentially decisive match of Pool 4 in this season’s Heineken Cup, flew from the Atlantic coast to Montpellier to play a Top 14 game on Wednesday night.

They lost, flew back to Biarritz and got to their homes in the small hours of Thursday morning.

Friday, they had off and Saturday they prepared for another away game — at Toulon on the Mediterranean.

The club decided the players were so tired from the midweek game, they should fly on the Sunday morning of the game.

It meant players getting up at 0600, stumbling to the airport and flying across southern France.

And, quelle surprise, Biarritz blew up after looking the better side in the first half and leading at half-time.

Their American wing, Takudzwa Ngwenya told me “Man, I am dead. I don’t know how we’re expected to meet this schedule, it is crazy. You just can’t play two games at this level inside four days. It’s impossible.”

Even back in season 2008/9, it was reported injuries rose by an alarming 20% on the previous year.

The financial stakes have become so high that this is now common practice in modern day rugby. You play till you drop. Literally. But at what future cost?

I remember interviewing former Scotland and Lions 1971 prop Sandy Carmichael a few years ago in Scotland. Carmichael was all but crippled by the injuries and operations he had had. He was all but helpless without two crutches.

Is this the shape of rugby’s future? You could say it will be even worse.

For the blows and collisions players give and receive nowadays are far more explosive than in Carmichael’s day.

Frankly, it is frightening to think about the state some of the modern players will be in by the time they’re 50 or 60.

Belfast Telegraph

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