Impact of the International Rugby Board’s Experimental Law Variations on the Incidence and Nature of Match Injuries in Southern Hemisphere Professional Rugby Union (Original Articles) (Report)
Rugby union is a contact team sport played throughout the world by adults and children of all ages. The popularity of the sport is due to the physical nature of the game and also its ability to offer roles for athletes of all shapes and sizes (IRB, 2008). (1) The sport attracts widespread spectator support, which is due in part to the worldwide media attention afforded to the International Rugby Board’s (IRB) Rugby World Cup (RWC) and to professional club competitions staged in northern and southern hemisphere countries. In 2004, the IRB established a Laws Project Group to review the existing Laws of the Game (1) with the aim of identifying ways in which the appeal of the game could be enhanced. This review resulted in a range of proposals, referred to as Experimental Law Variations (ELV). The efficacy of these proposals was initially assessed by the IRB during 2007 in a number of minor competitions in northern and southern hemisphere countries. The main technical evaluation of the proposed law changes was conducted during the 2008 Tri-nations, Super 14, Currie Cup and Vodacom Cup competitions in the southern hemisphere. Additionally, it is essential that the risk of injury to players is also monitored as part of the ELV evaluation process because of the high incidence of match injuries in rugby union. For international rugby, incidence of injury was recorded as 98 missed-match and medical treatment injuries/1 000 player-match hours at RWC 2003, (2) and 84 time-loss injuries/1 000 player-match hours at RWC 2007. (3) A northern hemisphere, two-season epidemiological study from 2002 to 2004 of 12 professional teams in the English Premiership (4) reported 91 time-loss injuries/1 000 player-match hours. Studies in the southern hemisphere reported 120 time-loss and medical treatment injuries/1 000 player-match hours for one New Zealand Super 12 professional team during the 1997 season, (5) and 55 time-loss and medical treatment injuries/1 000 player-match hours for three South African Super 12 professional teams during the 1999 season. (6) These southern hemisphere studies were conducted prior to the publication of the consensus agreement on definitions and procedures for injury surveillance studies in rugby, (7) so the first aim of this study was to characterise the incidence, nature and causes of injury in the Super 14 and Vodacom Cup competitions using the consensus-recommended protocols. The second aim was to evaluate the impact on match injuries of the IRB ELVs that were implemented at different levels during these two competitions.