Player Safety & Welfare

Is Rugby Safe?

To be sure, rugby play­ers get lots of bloody noses, chipped teeth, bro­ken fingers…and they like to show off these injuries, so one might come under the impres­sion that rugby is a very rough sport. But the facts show otherwise.

While rugby has a rep­u­ta­tion for being “dan­ger­ous,” it is a sur­pris­ingly safe sport. Few com­pre­hen­sive stud­ies have been done in the U.S. eval­u­at­ing the com­par­a­tive safety of rugby, but in other coun­tries, where the sport is more pop­u­lar, rugby ranks BELOWHockey, Bas­ket­ball, Soc­cer, Foot­ball, Base­ball, Lacrosse…even Swim­ming! A recent study at West Point deter­mined that rugby ranked below (among oth­ers) soc­cer and cross-​country for bro­ken bones and joint injuries. Amer­i­cans tend to think of Rugby as “Foot­ball with­out the pads,” but the truth is, tack­ling and other phys­i­cal con­tact takes a dif­fer­ent form when done with­out pads.

The main rea­son rugby play­ers have a rel­a­tively low risk of injury com­pared to foot­ball play­ers is para­dox­i­cal — rugby play­ers don’t wear pro­tec­tive equip­ment. Thus the rugby player doesn’t have the same dis­re­gard for the safety of his or her head, neck, and shoul­ders when tack­ling or try­ing to break through a tackle. The other rea­son is that rugby is a game of pos­ses­sion, not yardage. Con­se­quently rugby play­ers don’t tackle by dri­ving through the num­bers as foot­ball play­ers are taught to do with their heads when tack­ling a player. In rugby, play­ers are taught to use their arms to wrap a player’s legs and let the momen­tum of that player cause him to go to ground. Fur­ther­more, in rugby there is no block­ing, and so play­ers who don’t have the ball don’t get hit when they’re not expect­ing it.

One of the rea­sons rugby has a rep­u­ta­tion for being dan­ger­ous in the United States is because when the aver­age Amer­i­can sees rugby being played, he or she sees a free-​flowing con­tact sport. Because it doesn’t have the famil­iar stop-​and-​start char­ac­ter of foot­ball and other TV-​shaped sports, to the unini­ti­ated rugby can appear con­fus­ing and scary.

Fur­ther­more, while the bumps, bruises, and scrapes you see on the elbows, knees, and faces of many rugby play­ers can appear alarm­ing, they are of con­sid­er­ably less con­cern than the ante­rior cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment rup­tures, fin­ger frac­tures and dis­lo­ca­tions, and chest con­tu­sions char­ac­ter­is­tic of a sport such as foot­ball in which heavy pro­tec­tive equip­ment is worn.

It would be disin­gen­u­ous to sug­gest that rugby play­ers never get injured. How­ever, based on the numer­ous stud­ies that have been done, the sci­en­tific con­clu­sion we must reach is that rugby is not as inju­ri­ous as cer­tain other con­tact and col­li­sion sports, and is a rel­a­tively safe sport in the panoply of ath­letic endeav­ors avail­able to our young men and women.