Monday, September 26

Concussion rates in elite rugby hit highest levels since records began | rugby union

Concussion rates in elite English rugby have hit their highest levels since records began, according to the latest injury audit with the Rugby Football Union rolling out its “smart” mouthguard program in an effort to combat the rise.

The audit of the 2020-21 season, published on Tuesday by the RFU in conjunction with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, showed that for the 10th season running, concussion was the most reported injury, accounting for 28% of injuries.

The 2020-21 season had the highest incidence of concussion since records started in 2002 with 22.2 concussions per 1,000 hours of playing time. In total there were 131 concussions sustained in matches – resulting in an average of 17 days on the sidelines – and 17 suffered in training. “It should be noted that the 2020-21 season saw an increase in the incidence of match concussion despite observing a decrease in the incidence of all injuries,” reads the report.

An audit into the women’s game showed that concussion was the most commonly reported injury, making up 26% of all match injuries. Again, measured against 1,000 hours, the rate was 12.6, more than double the previous season – a rise put down in part to more consistent reporting and identification of concussion.

The alarming findings came on the same day that World Rugby confirmed its decision to extend the minimum stand-down period for most concussed elite-level players to 12 days from 1 July. The men’s audit also showed 48% of all match injuries were linked to the tackle – 27% for being tackled, 21% for tackling.

Upon announcing its findings, the RFU revealed that the “smart” mouthguards will be offered to all players in the Premiership, Premier 15s as well as England representatives next season. The gumshields have previously been used by a handful of Premiership clubs, Bristol’s women’s side as well as the England women’s side but all will be offered the chance to use them as part of the RFU’s roll-out.

Wales’ scrum-half Tomos Williams tackles during the 2022 Six Nations game against France but he suffered concussion later in the game. Photograph: Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

According to the RFU, research has shown that the mouthguards can monitor the frequency and magnitude of head contacts and head accelerations and provide measures of head impact and contact load. The RFU’s medical services director, Simon Kemp said: “The roll-out of instrumented mouthguards to top-flight men’s and women’s leagues and international teams this season will add significantly to our understanding of the number and magnitude of head impacts and accelerations and how these can be reduced in both training and match settings.”

The RFU also announced it will continue to test saliva in the Premiership and Premier 15s as well as with Advanced Brain Health Clinic assessments for retired players aged 30-55 with concerns about their brain health.

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