There is not enough fear or concern about concussions at the lower levels of rugby union in Ireland, according to physiotherapist Kate Wickham.
Wickham, who is a staff grade physiotherapist at Beaumont Hospital, expressed the need for physiotherapists at every game, at every level.
Concern for underage players has been at the forefront of the media in recent times with Dr Bennet Omalu, a neuropathologist renowned for his work on concussions, calling for a global ban of contact sports at an underage level.
When asked if she thinks that contact rugby could be banned for under-18s, Wickham said, “In terms of what’s coming out now in regards to head injuries, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens.”
Wickham also said that while plenty of injuries do occur in rugby, that other contact sports such as soccer and GAA have their fair share too.
“It’s just slightly different”, said Wickham. “Soccer would have more lower body injuries, loads of hips, loads of knees compared to rugby. In rugby it’s definitely more shoulders, ankles and head injuries.”
Austin Foxe, a rugby coach at Clontarf Rugby Club, believes practise is key to reducing the number of injuries in the game. “If they’re not practising and they don’t know how to tackle properly, they’re going to get injured.”
Foxe believes that banning under-18s from full contact would do little to decrease the number of injuries. “I think there are other ways to deal with that issue. If they only started tackling at that age they’d have a lot of learning to do.”
“The more technique that’s developed in players when they’re young will help greatly.”
Foxe has seen his fair share of injuries at an underage level and while all coaches get basic first aid training they aren’t able to deal with serious injuries.
Foxe spoke of the time an underage player broke his femur while playing for Clontarf. “That was scary because I’d never seen a broken leg before. I felt like we were powerless on the sideline.”
Eoin Thompson, a second year English and Media student in DCU and Clontarf Rugby under-20s player, talked about his experience with injuries in rugby.
“I’ve been playing since I was seven or eight, I’ve had one injury before from not catching the ball properly and hurt my pinky.”
While Thompson has been fortunate in regards to injuries in his rugby career, his mother was concerned when he first took up the game.
“She had a [brain] haemorrhage and my granddad got it as well, so she was scared that if I got hit in the head hard enough that I’d get it too. My dad was fine about it,” he said.
Thompson has little concern over injuries himself and was adamant that the fear of injures wouldn’t stop him from playing. “You never really worry about it. You don’t think it’s going to happen to you.”
Thompson did touch on a relatively new injury phenomenon that has come about with the use of all-weather pitches in training and matches.
When asked if he though these pitches were responsible for a number of injuries Thompson said responded saying “100 per cent. You see people getting injuries in their hips, knees more of the joints and thats because of the all-weather pitches.”
Image Credit: Eoin Harte