Last week I was asked to comment on an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine regarding reducing injuries in young rugby players. The study itself, from the University of Bath but with input from the Rugby Football Union, looks encouraging. It is a randomised control trial with over 3000 individual participants across their late teens which I have highlighted before is the age range of greater concern given the differing physical development of each player. The research looks well conducted and their conclusion that a specific warm up procedure could reduce the number of injuries and concussions in match situations looks positive for the future.
The one issue I have is that this study is not one on young rugby players, it is one on young rugby union players only. That is not a criticism of the authors who appear to be working in conjunction with the RFU in geographical areas where rugby union is the dominant code of football. My concern is whether the benefits of research such as this will be fully appreciated in rugby league circles. The young players will not be dissimilar to those playing rugby union and many of the injury patterns are visible across both codes which means it is of importance that rugby league takes notice of research about the other code.
Whenever I have written about rugby league before, I have made it clear that I have very little time for the "union versus league" debate. Scientific research published in high quality journals represents an ideal opportunity for codes to come together, learn from its each other and create codes of rugby that are safer for its younger (and older) participants.
The smaller player base, geographical restriction and the more limited financial reality make it arguably more difficult for rugby league to produce its own primary research although some, notably from Australia, is published. What is seen occasionally in the published literature is phrasing such as "collision sports" which seems to be an umbrella term for the games that involve some form of tackle. The use of terms such as this one is designed to bring several sports together and has some benefits but can also be seen to have less relevance to specific sports.
Unlike most other sports, rugby union and rugby league have a greater risk of more serious injuries to the head and neck which can lead to serious long term consequences for the players concerned. Any evidence published that has the potential to reduce any injury but particularly head and neck injuries needs to be welcomed and incorporated into both codes when appropriate. Even with the best preparation, head and neck injuries are not going to be eradicated in either code but it is important that governing bodies are seen to be proactive in reducing such incidences.
My hope is that the welfare of rugby league players is not forgotten by the scientific community and that those involved in the training of those rugby league players are open enough to acknowledge literature published about rugby union and apply the evidence base to their own code. It will be to the players benefit if they do.