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Injuries an occupational hazard in modern game


Ewen McKenzie

Long-term injury ... the Waratahs' Drew Mitchell.

Long-term injury ... the Waratahs' Drew Mitchell. Photo: Steve Christo

I was recently chatting to a good mate of mine, Simon from, about all things rugby, and we drifted onto the topic of injuries. The main discussion point was the impact injuries have on a team, on a season and on an individual game.

It's an area that is very topical for me at the moment and he had some very interesting observations that might explain why coaches act in the manner they do.

Statistically, if a player returning from injury is still carrying an element of that injury, they are twice as likely to incur more damage. Given the Super Rugby season is getting longer, the idea of rushing players back or not resting them once fatigue hits is not a smart idea.

Injuries can have a huge impact on a team. Last year in the World Cup, New Zealand almost went into shock when Dan Carter was injured, followed quickly by Colin Slade and then Aaron Cruden. In the end, their depth and back-up plan shone through, with Stephen Donald stepping up to help them win.

At the Queensland Reds, we are up to our fourth injury replacement option this season in the No.10 jersey. I do, however, have something in common with Graham Henry - we share the same optimism that the next guy can step up. It's called faith and trust.

Injuries can also change a season. In the inaugural 15-team Super Rugby season, the Highlanders got out of the blocks with a roar but they finished down the table due to a spate of injuries. This year it could happen again as injuries have returned.

The Waratahs, the Chiefs and the Blues are also high on the injury count, so the Reds aren't the only ones facing difficulties at this stage.

Injuries occur in a contact sport that are hard to avoid but you can avoid soft-tissue concerns. These muscle injuries can be forecast, and there are some nifty computer programs to assist in managing this process. But it really comes down to knowing your players and having some basic daily measures.

Injury management is a good place to start in terms of performance KPIs for your medical staff.

Last season, the Reds used 37 players. Given we are only allowed 30 contracted places, it becomes important to maintain links with a wider training squad and academy members as well.

As a coach, you need to plan for injuries, plan to avoid them by teaching correct technique and you have to ensure your players are in peak physical condition to reduce the risk.

Statistically, you can expect one injury to a player each game that will result in them missing the following week. This average is based on there being no injuries in some games, while in others there can be quite a few.

Another factor that increases the risk of injury is the undeniable fact that players are getting bigger, faster and stronger. New Zealand and South Africa have recognised this and have a system of 60 to 80 players. Depth is never an issue.

Injuries can also affect the game. This year, Super Rugby has already had four games (out of 28) that have resorted to uncontested scrums. That's an extremely high rate.

No pushing in the scrum changes the nature of the contest massively in terms of fitness and skill. It's an interesting trend, and one that got so out of control in Europe they now carry an extra front-rower on the bench in many of their competitions to avoid the impact of the non-contested scrum.

The media loves tales of woe, and some coaches love to make excuses. The two combined can lead to a poor mindset that almost gives your team a reason to fail.

I am an absolute believer that if you get your recruitment right then you will have the next best options available. It can be reason to celebrate the opportunity for the next guy rather than lament the disappointment of an injured player.

The challenge of overcoming injuries is part of the coaching experience and statistically, Simon says, it's becoming a bigger issue with each season that passes.

4 comments so far

  • Wise comments from a wise coach. McKenzie and White to co-coach the Wallabies to the next world cup!

    Date and time
    March 22, 2012, 6:26AM
    • What would Eddie do?

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      March 22, 2012, 3:26PM
  • Nice to see the issue being acknowledged publicly. At a hamstring forum by the AFL a few years back, we had the Melbourne Storm Physio report that they had had no on-field soft tissue injuries occur for a period of 5 years, due to the screening procedures they had in place at the time. Considering what happened to the Wallabies at the last World Cup and the current state of affairs with the Aussie Super 15 teams, a look at procedures would definitely be warranted.

    Date and time
    March 23, 2012, 12:22PM
    • I can't remember a season with soo many injuries right accross the board. The Oz teams are especially suffering.

      Date and time
      March 24, 2012, 1:24AM

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