England and Bath wing Anthony Watson has called for players to be limited to just 20 matches per year for the sake of their well-being.
The Rugby Football Union is leading a tackle trial in the new season as the sport examines its approaches to concussion and injury reduction.
It means that in English rugby’s second professional tier, the definition of a high tackle will be lowered from above the line of the shoulders to above the armpit line.
At a time when a number of relatively young players are being forced out of the sport early by injury, including former Wales captain Sam Warburton who retired at the age of 29, the onus is on the sport to look after the best interests of those who take the field week on week.
Watson has questioned whether the trial in the new Championship season will have the desired effect, suggesting it could cause more concussion injuries with players colliding into knees of opponents.
The 24-year-old, currently sidelined by an Achilles injury, told the Mail on Sunday: “You don’t want to see passive tackles. I don’t think changing the nature of the game is the answer.
“What’s difficult is playing 25 plus games per year and you end up playing at 75 or 80 per cent. These things aren’t decided by the players but I’d have thought 20 games maximum is the right number.”
The Gallagher Premiership season gets under way on Friday, with England stars again having loyalties to both their clubs and country. The dual contract system employed by the likes of Wales and Ireland, that sees national associations regulate players’ game time, does not apply with England. It can make for a heavy workload, and players may feel a long-term physical impact.
“Sometimes England want one thing and your club want something else,” said Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler.
“Your club pay your wages so they’re the strong voice but you want to get picked by England.
“It’s difficult to manage without upsetting either party, so you either get caught up in the politics of it all or just go out and play. I look at the systems in Wales, Ireland or New Zealand with envy but senior people here say ‘too late, the ship has sailed’, and go back to the power of the clubs.
“Am I saying I know the right number of games? No, but I just know it should be less. I’d rather play fewer games per year, take less money and have a longer career. Just like I’d rather have a functioning body after rugby and less money, instead of more money and a hip replacement.”