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Rugby's mounting casualty list

Lee Byrne

Rugby's injury jinx

By Andy Swiss
BBC sports news correspondent

In the typically deadpan view of Martin Johnson, "it's a little bit unfortunate".

Some understatement. To lose three or four players to injury might be deemed bad luck. But to lose half your first-choice team?

In truth, though, England's injury plight is just an extreme example of one of rugby's most pressing problems.

The most recent statistics from the Guinness Premiership show that - at any given time - about a quarter of all players in the top division are injured.

Stephen Jones feels the full force of Tendai Mtawarira
Stephen Jones feels the full force of Tendai "the Beast" Mtawarira

Things are little better in Wales. "We've had a few seasons like this now," laments Andrew Hore, the elite performance director at Ospreys, who is without 12 members of his squad.

"It's become the norm rather than the exception - and I can only see it getting worse as players get bigger."

Player size is a recurrent issue. Hore tells me that since the 1970s, the average weight for a back has risen from 80 kgs to 100 kgs.

"Back then," he adds, "the tackle impact was the equivalent of being hit by a Mini at 50 miles an hour. Now, it's a truck at 70 miles an hour."

Inside the club's treatment room, Adam Jones is tapping on a laptop to pass the time.

The Wales prop hasn't played since dislocating his shoulder during the second Lions Test - after an illegal "charge" tackle from Bakkies Botha.

Adam Jones
Lions prop Jones dislocated his shoulder against South Africa

"There's definitely more impact in the hit," agrees Jones.

"Rucking isn't just binding with a guy and trying to manoeuvre someone out of the way. You go in there and smash it out."

But it takes its toll. Are players ever genuinely fully fit? Jones smiles. "You'll never be 100% fit. I think anyone who tells you that is telling you a lie."

So what's the answer? Austin Healey has even suggested cutting the number of players in each team to increase the space on the pitch - and encourage a more expansive, less confrontational style.

Others say padding is the solution - but Jonathan Webb, former England full-back and now a surgeon, disagrees.

In fact, he'd abolish all padding and headgear. "It gives a false sense of security - and convinces youngsters they're invincible. That could be disastrous. You have to rely on natural defence mechanisms."

But one thing almost everyone agrees on is that the current injury rate is unsustainable. Fans want to see the biggest stars at the peak of their powers - not half-strength sides and half-crocked players.

And there could be more serious repercussions for those players. "Our main concern is what happens when they retire," says Damian Hopley, head of the players' union. "One of our members was 29 - and needed a new hip."

606: DEBATE

"There are some scary statistics. Ancedotally, 50% of retired footballers have some kind of arthritis by the age of 40. We understand in rugby, it's nearer 90%."

Coincidentally, the International Rugby Board are holding their first ever medical conference in London next week. The timing couldn't be better.

"Rugby is now a 12-month-round slog - and there's an accumulative effect," says Hopley. "Something has to give - and unfortunately it's the players' bodies."

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Johnson unfazed by England injuries



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see also
Carter will not be fit - Gatland
05 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Wing Jones out for three months
04 Nov 09 |  Welsh
Injury-hit England make changes
26 Oct 09 |  Rugby Union


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