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.