I have kept my powder relatively dry this week on the subject of the latest calls for tackling and scrummaging to be banned at school level, largely through fear of going too far.
To be honest, a few days on the chances of going too far have not really lessened. Allyson Pollock is under my skin and I want to sit down with her face to face and try to reason with her.
It is such a shame because this week has been one of the great weeks of schools rugby – at all levels. Especially at 1st XV level though, where the Champions Trophy and U18 Schools Cup both kicked off.
I will not get into it in detail, I will go too far. Suffice to say that I disagree strongly with Allyson Pollock. Her call to ban tackling and scrummaging in schools is simply ludicrous. Rather than teach younger, lighter, children how to tackle safely and with good technique, she wants to throw fully developed men and women who have been playing club rugby (and therefore in her world allowed to play contact rugby) into full contact aged 18 against people whose only exposure is of non-contact versions of the sport because they have been at a school that means their weekend’s are not available to go heading off to the local club. A fine plan, sure.
Let’s just look at two facts. Pollock has an agenda. In fact, she has two. Her son was injured playing rugby, and clearly that has caused considerable trauma. That is a shame, a genuine shame, and makes it understandable that she might want to lash out at the sport. However in her position as a medical professional, it is irresponsible to try and pass an emotional agenda as scientific fact. Second, she has a book out, she’s trying to sell it, this is largely just a pathetic sales attempt.
Are there issues within school rugby that need to be dealt with? Of course. Are injuries and injury prevention right at the top of that list? Absolutely, and the RFU, schools, World Rugby, and just about everyone in the rugby world knows that and is doing everything that they can to address it.
What really grates is that her piece in the BMJ (an opinion piece, by the way) is not about head injuries, it is about injuries in general. Were it specifically about head injuries the rugby world would still disagree vehemently, but would have been much more accommodating, we would all have acknowledged that head injuries are probably the number one item on the agenda of the entire rugby world right now and that we have to find away to a) understand them better, b) treat and respond to them better, and c) find a way to do everything reasonable to prevent them.
To cite all injuries is just daft though. Injuries are a part of sport, all sport. Even a game of tiddlywinks has the potential for a ligament strain in the finger.
Furthermore, injuries are not necessarily bad. Head, back, and neck, of course are different – they are horrible and to me almost do not count merely as injuries they sit above this conversation.
Other injuries though, they hurt, a lot sometimes, but they have benefits. For the player or person to whom the sport or life all comes to easily injuries are sometimes the first and only obstacle that has to be overcome. Injuries are a mental test as well as a physical one, and the struggle of overcoming an injury can be a powerful thing.
That is not to be ‘pro-injury’ just to say that injuries are a part of life and can have positives taken from them.
I will not even get into the physical, social, and mental benefits of rugby, you have all heard it all before, you know it is true.
The challenge now for all of us involved in school sports, directly or indirectly, is to demonstrate that we are on top of things, that we are teaching the right techniques, that referees are protecting players on the field, and that players are developed not just with the right technique but with the spirit of camerarderie for all players in the game, as shown by Nathan Hughes last weekend.
We must demonstrate how hard we are all working to protect this beautiful game and all of those that play it. Then, when future attacks like these come, and they will come, we can respond with clarity, truth, and dignity.
To try and close this rant, I say only this. If by some miracle Allyson or anyone that knows her is reading this, please sit down with me. Please sit and record a long discussion on our podcast with me so that we can all hear and understand your points straight from the horses mouth.
I will listen, I will try to understand, and I will try to present the view from the other side of the fence with clarity.
For info, here is the article from the BMJ: http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2017/09/25/allyson-pollock-and-graham-kirkwood-tackle-and-scrum-should-be-banned-in-school-rugby/