I can remember my eldest sons first proper Rugby festival like it was yesterday. It was a cold, crisp morning, and they faced a team of huge lads in their first game. My son, who had not long turned 9, was slim and small but feisty, and a real demon of a tackler.
As I watched from the sidelines, I wasn’t fully comfortable seeing the contact between the young boys but I was assured it was a good way for them to let out aggression. I didn’t disagree but any Mum who has stood and watched her child play contact rugby will know the first few matches are never easy.
Every team always had one oversized boy, the one who had his growth spurt at 6 years old, and hadn’t stopped; in the opposition’s case, it was player No.1. My son loved to tackle the big guys and my husband who coached the team, always said, “go in with a textbook tackle around the legs, commit to it, and they will fall….the bigger they are, the harder they fall.”
I could see my son was desperate to bring No.1 down and when he got his opportunity, he ran up alongside him and launched at his legs, wrapping his arms around just above the knees, and down he fell! It almost happened in slow motion, as the ball squeezed out of his grasp and into the hands of our quick-thinking scrum half, who was well on his way to the try line.
As the crowd cheered, what I saw next will stay with me forever. The No.1 got up, filled with rage and shock at being face-planted in the mud, and stamped on the side of my sons face. A full blown, anger infused stamp, which left stud-shaped bruises imprinted on my son's cheek and temple. Before I knew it, I found myself halfway on the pitch, as I could see the pain that had been inflicted on my son.
The ref’s whistle blew and I was asked to leave the pitch. As my son was attended to, I learned two lessons; firstly, that there was a chance my son would get hurt playing this sport and secondly, that if I was to watch it, I had to toughen up and accept it may happen from time to time.
My son is nearly 20 years old now and plays rugby daily whilst studying at Hartpury Uni. He is hoping to go pro but it still doesn’t make it any easier to watch.
Yet, would I agree to a change in the RFU laws that would ban children from playing contact rugby? No, certainly not.
But I would change the laws to ensure that ALL children playing contact rugby have to wear protective headgear. If gum shields are compulsory, why not ensure their heads are always protected too?
More than 70 Doctors are calling for a ban on contact sport for children, with Rugby being the main contender for concussions and serious head injuries. It’s difficult to monitor the RFU's rules on concussion when many children play school and club rugby. If a child gets a head injury at his club, the club knows that it’s a 3-week break, no questions asked. But how would the school know he’s been sidelined? The child could be a star player for the school and he/she may feel the pressure to step up and play. A small knock to the head in a school tournament and the results could be devastating.
We’ve all read about those stories, where kids have suffered life-changing injuries, or worse, have died. A system needs to be in place, where a central logging system ensures that clubs and schools inform each other when a child suffers an injury and it shouldn’t be too difficult to implement.
Rugby was my son’s choice, aged just 5 and a half and he loved it from the minute I took him to my local club. I asked him how he would have felt if it was tag rugby right through to seniors…
“I would never have stayed playing Tag rugby. Yes, it was great from U6 through to U9, but I watched so much rugby on TV, and also attended games, both amateur and professional, that I knew contact was something I wanted and needed to get my teeth into. As a boy, I had aggression that needed channeling and rugby taught me how to do that, and also how to work in a team. Yes, I have had some horrible injuries from stud bruises, dislocated fingers (and thumb), black eyes, broken nose and various lumps and bumps along the way, yet I feel that is part and parcel of playing a contact sport like rugby. If you don’t want to get hurt, don’t play.”
When I think of junior rugby, I think of how many children have benefitted from playing the sport. The RFU’s core values are Sportsmanship, Teamwork, Respect, Discipline, and Enjoyment. As a mum, yes, it has been difficult when my kids have got hurt playing rugby, but that has been balanced out with how they have turned out as a result of playing rugby. Injuries aside, I would encourage any child who has that wild, can’t be contained, type of personality, to give it a try (excuse the pun).
I would also encourage the enforcement of wearing a scrum cap, as I feel that it would bring down the amount of head injuries and concussions. Correct coaching techniques are also a must, and the RFU are working hard to ensure that those volunteers who step up every Sunday to assist with the coaching, are doing it in a safe way. Let’s keep contact rugby for kids but remain safe in the knowledge that we're protecting them where we can.
but safe in the knowledge that we are protecting them wherewe can.