Rugby Concussions Increase by 59%: Bigger Hits or Greater Awareness?

The brilliant John Beattie led a fascinating programme recently on BBC Panorama focussing on concussion in rugby union.

The one statistic that has stuck with me since is the RFU figure that concussion in rugby has increased by 59% in the last year. On the face of things, what an absolutely crazy statistic!

To put into perspective, within two weeks of winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003 Jonny Wilkinson picked up the first of 14 injuries that would rule him out of the game for the best part of four years. So it’s difficult to argue the game has become dramatically more physical, it always has been that’s surely not in dispute. So how are we seeing concussion statistics rising at such incredible speed?

We have had some very high profile head injuries in 2015 already, George North and Mike Brown as two obvious examples. The Rugby World Cup 2015 is breaking all sorts of viewing records and a surge in media attention is to be expected. Throw into the mix the recent $1billion NFL Concussion Settlement and there is an overbearing sense of feeling that awareness is dominating.

Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not, it’s essential and in mind ten years late in being brought to the fore. But is 59% increase accurate? My instinct would say no it’s not, it’s more indicative of missed head traumas in previous seasons. Which leads to my greatest concern; if I was running out for England or Wales later this evening at Twickenham and took a dangerous hit to the head I am probably in the safest rugby environment for this to happen. I have the best medical professionals around me, we have TV footage to see exactly how the injury came about, and confirm did I lose consciousness. Would I want to come off though? Absolutely not, and this leads to what I feel is the absolute crux of the issue.

Rugby folklore always reveres the men or women who have played through physical pain, we think back to Richie McCaw captaining New Zealand to a World Cup four years ago on a broken foot, to Martin Johnson demanding the Lions Doctor hurry up when stitching his cheek back together on the 1997 Lions Tour. These are the heroes, and the leaders we revere. This is why rugby fans proudly pronounce ‘This is not football.’ This then transfers to the Mosely RFC players when interviewed by John Beattie on BBC earlier this week discussing how there were ways of fooling concussion tests with pre-season false results, and that they would not want to volunteer to come off.

So if technology and media coverage is highlighting and increasing the rate of concussions recorded but lacks the ability to do so conclusively this then puts the onus onto the player. – So how we change the ‘John Wayne’ style mentaility that so many of us are guilty of?