Analysis: ongoing research into injuries suffered in Irish club and school rugby has produced some fascinating data about the game

By Tom Comyns and Ian Kenny, University of Limerick

Player health and welfare are of paramount important to the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU). Understanding the nature and type of injury is necessary so that the IRFU can plan and implement effective supports and policies for players. In 2016, the IRFU partnered with the authors for a six year project to undertake injury surveillance across the amateur game in Ireland. Injury surveillance in club and school rugby is limited globally so this initiative has the potential to enhance amateur player welfare in Ireland.

The Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) project was borne out of this IRFU/UL partnership and is the first long-term rugby union-specific injury surveillance research project within amateur rugby in Ireland. The project aims to assess the incidence, type, location, nature and severity of both match and training injuries occurring across the amateur game in Ireland. By monitoring this information, injury trends may emerge which will aid in the development and implementation of future evidence-based injury prevention strategies which will help to minimise injury risk and enhance player welfare.

With a research team of nine academics and three PhD scholars, the programme has conducted injury surveillance over two years on over 1,500 amateur players from 25 male amateur clubs, 10 female amateur clubs and 12 schools The uniqueness of this project is that it includes players from various cohorts and age groups and it is the first rugby surveillance focus internationally to give equal focus to the women's game.

The most common locations for injuries in male rugby players surveyed

The first annual injury surveillance report was published in September 2018 and looked at the incidence, nature, location and severity of injury during the 2017-2018 All-Ireland League Rugby season. The data in this report were compiled across 418 matches from 19 AIL clubs (15 male and four female teams) and a total of 479 male players and 129 female players were registered with the IRIS project for 2017/18. The findings from this report have provided insight into how often players get injured, what the injured areas are, what the common injuries are, who gets injured more frequently and when these injuries occur in  a match.

A male player would have to play 15 matches and a female player would have to play 16 matches to sustain one injury. The tackle accounted for the majority of match and training injuries, with 54% of match and training injuries occurring during the tackle. During the tackle itself, 54% of the injuries were sustained by the ball carrier, while 46% were sustained by the tackler.

The most commonly reported match injuries for males were concussion (12%) followed by ankle ligament sprains (11%). For the women’s clubs the most commonly reported match injuries were ankle ligament sprains (11%) and concussion (11%). The incidence rate of these injuries, however, was not excessive and in line with international norms.

The most common locations for injuries in women rugby players surveyed

The report also detailed the injuries for each playing position. Of all match and training injuries recorded in the men’s clubs, forwards were more likely to sustain an injury (57%) compared to backs (43%). The no. 7 (openside flanker) had the highest proportion of match injuries in men’s clubs (11% of all injuries). The results for the women’s game were similar, with 56% of all injuries sustained by forwards and 44% attributed to the backs. For females, the player with the highest proportion of match injuries was the no. 12 (inside centre).

In addition, the report noted that the shoulder was the most commonly reported injured area in the men’s clubs, while the ankle joint, head and hand were the most commonly injured areas in the female clubs. The majority of all injuries occurred in the third quarter amongst the men’s teams, while an equal number of injuries in women’s teams occurred in the second and third quarters.

As you can see, there are similarities and distinctions in all of these results between males and females. Both males and females generally sustain injuries to the same areas and sustain the same type of injuries. However, males seem to get injured later in a match compared to the females and the most commonly injured player in the female game is a back (no. 12), while it is a forward (no. 7) in the male game.

From tackles and rucks to scrums and lineouts, when are rugby injuries most likely to occur?

For the 2018/19 season, IRIS has expanded to 35 club teams (25 male and 10 female teams) and 12 senior cup schools, with over 1,600 players involved. The 2018/19 season reports will be released later in the year and will form a comprehensive analysis of injury trends and areas for preventative measures in the underage and amateur games. Over time, we hope that the IRIS project will impact on policies and practices within Irish rugby to enhance player health and welfare.

Dr Tom Comyns is a lecturer in the Department of Physical Education & Sport Sciences and course director of the BSc in Sport and Exercise Sciences at the University of LimerickDr Ian Kenny is a senior lecturer in biomechanics and Course Director for the MSc in Sports Performance in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Limerick

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ