Sad to say this, and perhaps only a mother who has sat too long in A&E on a Saturday afternoon could, but the glorification of Sam Burgess proves that rugby simply doesn’t get it. Burgess is the wrecking ball of rugby league who has just switched codes to union. He is being talked up as a future star of England on the strength of the physical punishment he can inflict and withstand.
He is regarded as a hero — some might use another word — because in his last league game, in Australia, despite fracturing an eye socket and cheekbone in the first minute, he played on for 79 more and his team won its first championship for 43 years.
Commentators speak reverentially of the four plates in his cheekbone. He’s so intimidating, they say. King of the “big hit”. In fact pound for pound, they gasp, no other players can “hit” like he does. They drool at the thought of the collisions to come.
Rugby is the greatest of games but the culture of the big hit is destroying it. There are not enough adolescents with freakish bodies to sacrifice. There are too many ruined bodies and frightened mothers. The England player Joe Launchbury, a man built like a tree, is out for six weeks with a neck injury.
Ten days ago, in a single match, Scotland’s new captain, Grant Gilchrist, broke his arm and four of his Edinburgh team mates left the field with a broken jaw, a fractured cheekbone, knee ligament damage and concussion.
That’s one third of a professional rugby team, men trained to withstand injury, seriously injured. Is that what we want?
Letters Nov 4th:
Sir, Melanie Reid is right in her condemnation of the “big hit” in modern rugby (“Rugby score: broken jaws 2, fractured cheekbones 1”, Notebook, Nov 4). The rugby authorities and particularly the “law book” authors would do well to give serious thought to her article.
At any one time about 25 per cent of players at the top level are unavailable for selection because of injury. Assuming that an individual player is injured for 25 per cent of the season and that the season lasts 32 weeks, he would expect to be out of action for eight weeks. At a rate of four weeks per injury, he would expect two injuries per season. Further, assuming a senior career of 12 years, he could expect 24 injuries of this severity over his career. The authorities should properly consider the long-term effects of these injuries on the quality of the player’s later life.
John Owen Trefriw, Conwy
Sir, Having watched a good Ulster team being outmuscled by an immense Toulon team recently, I share Melanie Reid’s concern about big hits in rugby.
Could we learn from the airlines with their cabin baggage templates? Put a gate at the end of the players’ tunnel, and if you do not fit through you don’t get onto the pitch.
TJ Robinson Banbridge, Co Down
Expenses/costs for even the most ardent Rugby Nations (Wales and NZ) are difficult to find. It is said that over 80% of public funds spent on sport is spent on male rugby – I would welcome correction from a respected source..