A new study, published yesterday in the Medical Journal of Australia, shows seven of 23 rugby players who sustained acute spinal cord injury between 1997 and 2002 were scrum victims.
In all, 52 players across the codes – rugby union, rugby league, Australian football and soccer – were admitted to spinal units around the country over the period researched by five surgeons.
Twenty of the players became permanently wheelchair-dependant. The report reveals: “There have been no scrum injuries in rugby league since 1996, when the scrum stopped being contested.”
It also points out six of the seven rugby union scrum injuries came at initial engagement of the two packs with the other from a scrum collapse.
The surgeons concluded there was “good reason to revise the laws of scrum engagement in rugby union”.
Speaking on his 2GB radio breakfast show, Jones said: “Unless you are completely hopeless, the team putting the ball in the scrum wins the ball back.
“So if there’s an injury problem then perhaps the game has to think about getting rid of the scrum altogether. If a scrum is an instrument to restart the game, and the team in possession before the scrum is the team in possession after the scrum, then why submit the body to that kind of risk?”
Previous research for 1986-1996 showed there were 11 acute spinal cord injuries sustained in rugby union scrums and 19 from other areas of the game. In 1997-2002 it was seven from scrums and 16 from other areas.
There were 33 acute spinal cord injuries in rugby league during the first study and just 10 in the second. The other codes showed: Australian football (12 and 13) and soccer (1 and 4).
But the number of registered rugby union players almost doubled between 1985 and 2002. Rugby league playing numbers dropped by 23 per cent.
While concern on the medical front remains high, it was significant that the annual average of serious spinal cord damage per 100,000 players was on the wane in both rugby codes.
In rugby league it dropped from 2.4 in the first study to 1.5. Rugby union was down from 3.5 to 3.2. And an Australian Rugby Union spokesman said the incidence of scrum injuries had continued to fall since the end of 2002.
“We’ve also introduced a compulsory safety certification program for every coach at every level,” he said.
The last serious scrum injury in rugby union forced Wallaby prop Ben Darwin to retire after the 2003 World Cup semi-final against the All Blacks.
The Daily Telegraph