Rugby is a tough sport, but the modern game has improved safety in such a dramatic way that NFL teams are taking notice.

Player safety is the top priority of our coaching staff. High school rugby should be a fun experience, and there’s no excuse for putting a child’s safety and quality of life at risk in order to win a game at any level.

While there is a stigma about rugby being a dangerous sport, much of the real dirty play was removed from the game decades ago, and federations from all nations are working to ensure player safety. Most of rugby injuries are bumps, scraps, and bruises. Furthermore, USA Rugby forces their coaches at every level to complete a concussion safety program.

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Alex Werra talks with a trainer after bruising her knee in a game against Kettle Moraine.

Rugby is different than American football in that one must wrap up a player when they attempt to tackle them and players without the ball cannot be blocked or tackled.

Tuning into American football, one could see players violently and recklessly throwing their bodies into their opponents on almost every play, including players who are away from the play and not carrying the ball. This kind of tackling is banned in rugby. In fact, some are offering “rugby tackling” as a solution to the NFL’s concussion problem. Pete Carroll coached the Seattle Seahawks to multiple Super Bowls by implementing a rugby-style tackling system designed to improve player safety. While concussions increased in the NFL, both Seattle and Atlanta (teams that used rugby tackling) saw their concussion numbers dip below the NFL average (PBS Frontline).

Because of the rules in place and the skill set seen at the high school level, it is important to note that a lot of rugby’s “violent reputation” comes from misattributing the type of play at the professional level to the type of play seen at the high school level. High school players get injured at half the rate of professionals (Palmer-Green et. al, 2009). Just like in every other sport, women playing rugby are more likely to suffer a concussion or knee injury than their male counterpart; although, they are less likely to suffer a fracture (Peck, 2013). That being said, sprains and strains remain the most common injury in the sport with concussions only making up 5-15% of the injuries sustained while playing (Palmer-Green et. al, 2009). Be advised that all student athletes at Hamilton receive baseline concussion testing and will be put through the “concussion protocol” with an athletic trainer if they sustain a head injury.

Unlike other programs, Hamilton RFC also tracks significant injuries to find ways to limit their impact on our players.

Number of Players with Significant Injuries by Season

Concussion Knee Tear

Knee Sprain

Fall 2017

2 0 1

Spring 2018

0

1

0

Fall 2018

6

0

0

Spring 2019

1

2

1

Total

9

3

2

Average

2.25 .75

.5

Averaging two players with concussions and less than one player with a knee tear per season is not a terrifying statistic, considering Hamilton RFC is made up of 30 players, equal to or greater than the equivalent of a JV and varsity soccer or basketball program. Surely, soccer and basketball programs have similar numbers, but we don’t know because few teams (unlike Hamilton RFC) publish their injury stats.

But not only are we up front with our stats, we respond to them. When we saw a spike in concussions last fall, we reviewed game film and noticed that four of the six players who were concussed had been practicing improper technique at the time of their injury.

Those problems were corrected in practice, and Hamilton RFC went further by hiring more coaches to help train players at practice. This move gave Hamilton RFC one of the largest coaching staffs in the league and the only staff that features a USA Rugby Level 300 coach and two USA Rugby Level 200 coaches. The team has also invested almost $2000 in elite tackling practice equipment used by professionals to limit contact in practice. We believe these measures were instrumental in driving down the number of concussions from the previous season.

Furthermore, starting this fall (2019), we will be the first team in the school that makes students attend a mandatory concussion class, specific to the sport, that will teach them the symptoms of a concussion, how to recover from a concussion, and the dangers of trying to hide a concussion from coaches/parents.

All that being said, we will still see injuries in this sport, and we will have an athletic trainer on hand at every game because of it. By teaching the girls proper technique and by putting player safety before team results, we may not be able to avoid injuries in this sport, but we can do a lot to limit the severity of those injuries.