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Rugby bosses ponder law changes

England flanker Joe Worsley
Joe Worsley was the latest England player to fall victim to injury

By Aimee Lewis

Rugby's governing body could consider law changes in response to the number of recent injuries and a perception the sport is becoming less entertaining.

Injuries have become a major issue this season, while the trend has grown for kicking rather than running the ball.

The International Rugby Board council meets next week, and Rugby Football Union chairman Martyn Thomas said a review of the laws is on the agenda.

"At all costs we'll do what we can to protect players," he told BBC Sport.

England's preparations for this autumn's internationals against Australia, New Zealand and Argentina were hit by what manager Martin Johnson described as an "unprecedented" number of injuries to his squad.

Rugby's injury jinx

Thirteen of Johnson's original squad were sidelined ahead of the series - including four-fifths of the first-choice tight-five.

Wales, too, have been without Lions trio Lee Byrne, Mike Phillips and Adam Jones, with the latter recently admitting that no player was now genuinely 100% fit.

And in the Guinness Premiership, recent statistics have shown that at any given time about a quarter of all players in the top division are injured.

"The rise in injuries is not acceptable," added Thomas ahead of Tuesday's meeting of Six Nations representatives.

"We can't just shut our eyes. We have the ability to change laws. If the medics and experts say there is a problem then the RFU will take a look at it.

"The crucial thing is player welfare and the impact the injuries are having on the game, apart from a moral issue, of course."

Surgeon and former England full-back Jonathan Webb recently told BBC Sport that the increase in injuries could be put down to players getting stronger and fitter.

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England internationals are now on average two inches taller and a stone heavier than those of 20 years ago.

"A bigger body travelling faster hitting another body is going to cause more damage," said Webb.

An RFU taskforce brought together in the wake of the 'Bloodgate' scandal suggested the introduction of rugby league-style "rolling substitutions" as one possible way of dealing with the increasingly physical nature of the modern game.

The IRB had previously stated that no changes would be made to the laws of the game prior to the 2011 World Cup.

But Thomas pointed out that there had been exceptions to this, with adjustments introduced at the scrum following the introduction of the "crouch, touch, pause, engage" command that was intended to improve the safety for front row players in particular.

England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson
Kicking from hand is back in vogue at the top level

"We said we're not going to change the laws this side of the World Cup, but we have to be open: look at the laws and look at the impact they're having on the game," added Thomas, speaking at the launch of the Women's Rugby World Cup 2010 at Twickenham.

"We changed the scrum law because we were concerned for player welfare. We have to be open and realistic.

"The RFU has got a pretty good record for lobbying."

In addition to player welfare, Thomas said the council would discuss the preponderance of kicking in the game and the lack of tries in the Test arena this autumn. England, for instance, scored just one try in 240 minutes of rugby with a much-criticised win over Argentina the sole victory of an uninspiring campaign.

The number of reset scrums and the frequency of penalties at the breakdown area have also been cited as particular concerns for a sport that is keen to try to broaden its global appeal.

"The laws are on the agenda. We've been talking to Australia and New Zealand and other countries [and will be talking to the Six nations countries on Tuesday]," he said.

"This is not a peculiarly English problem. It's obviously the same for all of us around the world."

British and Irish Lions doctor James Robson believes the bulking up of players is also having a detrimental impact on the quality of rugby.

"We're getting to the point where we're getting collisions, but not necessarily the entertainment," Robson told BBC Wales.

"Players are so big and so bulky that maybe skills have dropped a little. My hope is that coaches recognise that and we get a little bit smaller and faster and more skilful."



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see also
Refs to get tougher over scrums
14 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Rugby's mounting casualty list
06 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Rugby's injury jinx
06 Nov 09 |  Rugby Union
Lions doctor tackles injury worry
09 Oct 09 |  Rugby Union
Johnson backs substitution change
01 Oct 09 |  English
Shaw questions gym-based approach
21 Oct 09 |  English
Wing Jones out for three months
04 Nov 09 |  Welsh
Injury-hit England make changes
26 Oct 09 |  Rugby Union
New scrummaging law takes force
01 Jan 07 |  Laws & Equipment
Maul preserved after laws review
31 Mar 09 |  Rugby Union


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