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Sizing up the shoulder charge ban raises challenge to the data

On report ... Greg Inglis received a three week ban for his shoulder charge on Dean Young against the Dragons in July.

On report ... Greg Inglis received a three week ban for his shoulder charge on Dean Young against the Dragons in July. Photo: Getty Images

THE International Rugby Board's chief medical officer, Dr Martin Raftery, while endorsing the Australian Rugby League Commission's ban on the shoulder charge, disputes most of the data used to justify outlawing it.

Raftery, who recently returned from an international conference on concussion in Switzerland, is impeccably qualified to comment on injuries in both codes of rugby. He played for Cronulla (1974-80); was doctor for the Wallabies (2002-08) and the Dragons (1989-2004) and was appointed to the IRB's top medical post before last year's Rugby World Cup.

Rugby union has already banned the shoulder charge but not because players had grown 1.2 centimetres taller and 4 kilograms heavier since 2002, as the ARLC claimed, citing ''a detailed report''.

''This is an attempt to make a casual link with player size without any evidence of a link between size and injury,'' Raftery says. ''I am not aware of any data, including what is available from the 'detailed report' into shoulder charges, showing the increased size of athletes making a shoulder charge more likely to cause an injury, even if this would seem to be logical. Since 2000 [in rugby], despite a proven increase in weight, height and speed of players, injury rates have remained stable and actually returned to the pre-professional levels.''

Raftery also takes issue with NRL players who argue that the injury risk from a shoulder charge is minimal because these tackles represent a very small percentage of all tackles effected, a point ironically made by the ARLC which says shoulder charges comprise only 0.05 per cent of the 142,355 tackles made this year.

''I often hear people quoted saying that the injury risk from a shoulder charge is not that bad,'' he said. ''What these people fail to take into account is the injury per event. For example, in a game there may only be three shoulder charges with one injury (injury rate of one in three events) whereas there may be 10 injuries from tackles but there are 250 tackles in a game (injury rate from a tackle is one in every 25). In this scenario the shoulder charge is over eight times more likely to result in an injury. Data from rugby union confirms that a shoulder charge is 70 per cent more likely to result in an injury when compared with a tackle.''

The ARLC, in justifying the ban, cited a statistic that the average G-force of the shoulder charge measured from accelerometer data taken from GPS tracking was 76 per cent greater than a conventional head-on tackle (10.682 compared to 6.056).

This drew a cynical response from Raftery: ''Whilst this is impressive data, forces measured in American football with accelerometers in helmets do not show a linear relationship between head injury and force. There is also no evidence to suggest a head injury occurs at a specified force. Additionally, there is no link with the severity of a concussion and the level of force. What force data suggests is that athletes have different levels of susceptibility to head injury and the best approach is to eliminate direct forces to the head and face, rather than decide one level of force is OK and another is harmful.''

However, Raftery did endorse one statistic quoted by the ARLC - 17 per cent of shoulder charges resulted in contact with the head of the attacking player. ''The 2012 Concussion Conference in Zurich … strongly recommended that sports look to reduce attacks to the head and face in an effort to reduce concussion and any potential long-term sequelae,'' he said. ''If 17 per cent of shoulder charges result in contact with the head, then the risk is that one in every six shoulder charges will potentially cause a head injury.''

Apart from the ARLC being vulnerable to criticism it is grandstanding with flawed data, it risks accusations of hypocrisy, particularly regarding concerns over player safety. The ARLC had one representative at the Zurich conference, Dr Ron Muratore, the NRL's chief medical officer, whereas the AFL had six present, including an administrator.

7 comments so far

  • The threat of a shoulder charge as a way of shutting down an offload is not reflected in the statistics of how many are carried out. In 2013 I expect more swinging arms, head high tackles and more front on tackles to shut down the increased number of offloads the shoulder charge free tackle area will provide. The shoulder charge is a low percentage play and was on it's way to a natural death, removing it altogether creates yet another area for a referee to rule and influence the game.
    Certainly the league had to ban the shoulder charge based on medical grounds but I'd rather see less involvement from the referee influencing a game especially now there are two referee interpretations to deal with.
    Love to know the statistics on head contact from front on tackles to see whether it is more or less than a shoulder charge.
    Also love to know if the shoulder charging Sam Burgess has gone down in value and whether the off loading SBW has gone up in value.

    Commenter
    stojo01
    Location
    Zeadney
    Date and time
    November 24, 2012, 11:03AM
    • Offloading SBW was also a shoulder charger... so I guess his value will even out.

      Commenter
      Jimbob
      Date and time
      November 24, 2012, 11:00PM
  • so 1 in 6 shoulder charges results is head trauma, and the likelihood of permanent brain damage I presume is dependent on severity of head trauma and number of traumas which can vary from individual to individual. League admins and players (and fans for that matter) have been aware for some time that shoulder charges often results in head trauma...it has taken some time but the admins are now doing the right thing by the players's welfare....and most importantly the admins know they will enter a world of pain in civil lawsuits if they didn't make the change. The AFL had 6 reps at the conference....good to see... they really are a well run football code.

    Commenter
    joe b
    Location
    perth
    Date and time
    November 24, 2012, 2:05PM
    • Statistics, statistics and bloody lies. Percentages here percentages there, lets get real give us the the figures on the number of players knocked out (read head trauma) making legitimate tackles compared to those involved in shoulder charges. I bet the league won't have statistics for this as it wouldn't suit them at present.

      Commenter
      RTP
      Location
      Sawtell
      Date and time
      November 24, 2012, 7:44PM
  • Head collisions , brain trauma..... I don't care what code you play or support the underlying fact is if you can remove / reduce them from the game then you should do so. The removal of the "No arm tackle" didn't make Rugby any less a physical game just as the removal of the "Shoulder charge" from League won't make it any less of a physical game. I am a long time player who played both codes as a senior and always in the front 3 ( 3 seasons of League and 20+ Rugby) . I now don't see properly from the left eye , have some capped & replaced teeth and can't breathe through one nostril. Like most players I know full well what head collisions do. Good call ARL.....Even Rodeo participants now wear helmets and body armour to reduce injury.

    Commenter
    Grey # 2
    Location
    Riverina
    Date and time
    November 25, 2012, 12:45PM
    • Riverina you are what we called a dumb forward and deserve your injuries!
      You should have been quicker and more nimble and you still would have aface like mine even after playing rugby league for 15 years, oh and by the way yes I did score more tries than you, yes my wife is a babe (still) and my children do take after their mother.
      Good luck with your hip replacement and leave the shoulder charge alone

      Commenter
      Whatwould iknow
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      December 12, 2012, 11:42PM
  • They need to get rid of the third man in as well. There's a knee injury waiting every time there's two up top wrapping up the player and the third comes in around the knees and takes them down. All they need to do is have one of them drop down after slowing the forward momentum, and they take him down. Then there's an extra player already back in the defensive line waiting for the dummy half scoot. The the refs just allow a little more time for the two to get to their feet at marker.

    Commenter
    Sean
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    December 06, 2012, 5:27PM

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