Concussion in Rugby: How World Rugby are Making it Front and Centre of Player Welfare

Player welfare is a core theme which World Rugby have at the front and centre of its thinking. A few weeks back I was privileged to attend a workshop and assessment of a group of organisations that manufacture systems or technologies used to assess a player who suffered a concussion from a head impact on the field. All these tools are to be used to augment HIA assessment at pitch side.

They would provide a valuable and omnipresent tool to reduce the likelihood of a player returning to the field in a state of concussion, with all its attendant risks to the player's welfare in both the short and long-term.

One of the most exciting parts of the day was listening to Dr. Ross Tucker who has consulted with numerous teams and athletes in the high-performance world, including USA Triathlon, UK Sport, SA Rugby and SA Rugby Sevens, English Rugby Football Union, South African Olympic Committee, SA Rowing, SA Kayaking, SA Triathlon, the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, Western Province Rugby Union and World Rugby. Tucker presented an analysis of what type of collisions can cause a potential concussion in the game. This fascinating insight is from a study of World Rugby regulated competitions involving elite players. While we were most interested in head-to-surface impacts for obvious reasons, (because sports surfaces are our thing) the stats on what type of collision is most likely to cause a concussion was very revealing.

ABOVE: Image is property of World Rugby

World rugby spends a lot of time trying to improve player welfare. One of the reasons this panel convened was to look at technology to improve detection rates and to remove as much as possible any human influence -- whether player led or coach led -- over the current testing strategies.

The primary method World Rugby would use to address the most common reason for the cause of concussion in rugby is to regulate the game via the Laws of the Game.

There are 22 Laws Click here to view on the World Rugby website

1. The Ground
2. The Ball
3. Number of Players - The Team
4. Players' Clothing
5. Time
6. Match Officials
7. Mode of Play
8. Advantage
9. Method of Scoring
10. Foul Play
11. Offside and Onside in General Play
12. Knock-on or Throw forward
13. Kick-off and Restart Kicks
14. Ball on the Ground - No Tackle
15. Tackle: Ball Carrier Brought to Ground
16. Ruck
17. Maul
18. Mark
19. Touch and Lineout
20. Scrum
21. Penalty and Free Kicks
22. In-Goal

How do we stop so many collisions in rugby? There are many schools of thought on this. There is no simple answer, as a big part of the game is the tackle. To change this is fundamentally changing the game.

  • Make the pitch bigger? Hence creating more channels for players to run and avoid contact?
  • Reduce the number of players on the field of play?
  • Increase the frequency of substitution, so players are not on the field for entire games?
  • Regulate the tackle more, making some types of tackling an offence and penalising players who perform unauthorised tackles?

These are just some of the controversial suggestions being aired in the media.

One thing for sure, World Rugby is not burying their heads in the sand when it comes to addressing this issue. Initiatives like this demonstrate that the next step with player protection is to make sure a proper and thorough scientific assessment is made of the player before they return to the field. Reducing the number of concussions in the modern game is a challenging area of the game to regulate. We will update you further as information becomes available.

In the meantime, you can obtain further information on player welfare from:

Player Welfare and the Concussion Foundation

Eric O'Donnell,
Managing Director