Pressure grows to prevent injury crisis further up the leagues…
All my life
Is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
Cause you’re a dream to me
The Cranberries – Dreams
Law 15.4 (c) has come under scrutiny elsewhere in the blog and it is given a further mention in today’s post as a result of Toby Booth’s comments in last Sunday’s edition of The Rugby Post. Booth, the Head Coach at Bath, has become increasingly frustrated by the injury crisis affecting his club, a crisis he attributes to changes in the laws over the last few seasons and in particular to those associated with the breakdown.
Notably, Law 15.4 (c), which states that:
The tackler must get up before the ball and then can only play from their own side of the tackle gate.
The impact of this particular law is profound and, according to Booth, whereas the average number of contacts in a game last season was in the region of between ‘ 600 and 650, with the highest being 806’,
we’ve been over 800 six times and against Exeter we had 1042 contacts, so you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out there will be more injuries
It appears that the change in the law this season now means that the initial tackler has far less opportunity to compete for the ball as he now has to re-enter through the area behind his side of where the tackle, or the breakdown, has occurred, whereas previously all that was required of the player was that he stay on his feet.
The intention behind the change is sound, namely with the attacker now having less opportunity to compete for the ball, it gives the attacking side more time to recycle it, thus keeping play alive longer and the game flowing. And that makes for a more spectator friendly game – and that in turn keeps spectators interested and involved,
The hope was that the law change would also reduce the severity of the first contact as the tackler needs to be alert to get behind that initial tackle line.
But the rugby world is paved with good intentions and whilst the laws have done exactly what they set out to do, namely keep the ball in play for longer, the by-product of that is that play goes through far more phases and as a result, as Booth illustrates so successfully in The Rugby Paper, the number of contacts increases. And as most injuries occur at the point of tackle, it’s not surprising the number of injuries has increased alarmingly.
Some of the figures Booth quotes are disturbing:
Our ball in-play time has been up as high as 46 minutes, whereas five years ago we were at 33 minutes, so that’s a rise of over 30% with the laws around the breakdown meaning the trend is moving more towards attack…concussion now accounts for 40% of injuries
Clubs are looking at ways of making players less susceptible to contact-based injuries whilst also reducing the amount of contact involved in training. Bath have ‘minimal’ contact sessions, as is the case with Coventry once pre-season is out of the way.
One of the things that Max Hartman stressed in his talk to supporters at the last Fans’ Forum was that he saw part of his role as being to make players tougher, fitter and stronger and better prepared to face the increased physicality of the Championship. By bulking players up and making them stronger, they are more likely to withstand the rigours of what is increasingly becoming a more physically demanding game.
I can’t say I’m aware of there being an injury ‘crisis’ in National One, at not least not one that has been brought about changes to the laws as outlined above.
But in the Championship?
Cov play high tempo rugby and when playing at their best, forcing teams into making tackle after tackle as they recycle the ball at a pace that is just too quick for most teams to live with (as Blackheath did to us last Saturday). A guess this, but in the matches we’ve played so far this season, it just feels as if the opposition have suffered more injuries on average in a game than we have (OAs the week before was a case in point), although I have no stats to support this. It just seems that way.
Should Cov gain promotion, then they will be playing against players who are bigger and hit harder, so the more the S&C team can do to prepare players for such challenges the better. Max H explained at the Fans’ Forum how closely the players are monitored now and how they are set individual programmes tailored to each player specific needs. That started several months ago now and is just one example of the kind of preparation and planning that has gone into ‘Project Cov’ – preparing for the next tier of national rugby isn’t just about getting it right on the pitch, it’s also about getting it right off it and in doing so hopefully better protecting the players from injury as well.
And good as Coventry’s S and C support is, it’s not yet the equal of those in the Premiership (although by all accounts it is better than several in the Championship). And yet Bath has recently had 19 of its senior squad out injured, despite the extensive work that it has been doing to better prepare players on the pitch through its ‘prehab and rehab work‘.
The article in The Rugby Paper, another Neale Harvey lead, suggests that such problems are not uncommon amongst other sides in the Premiership either.
an injury crisis that has left some top-flight squads at breaking point
Going back to the last couple of posts on the blog regarding recruitment for next season, does this mean that a Cov squad going into the Championship would need to be slightly larger in number than perhaps it would have been before to cope with the probable injury scenarios that are currently being played out elsewhere, or is that a problem unique to the Premiership alone?
Despite one or two serious, long-term injuries to the likes of Poole, Brown, Grove, Stevens and short to mid-term ones to White and Brazier, Coventry has managed its injury problems extremely well and part of that must be down to the intense work done pre-season to ensure high levels of fitness from day one.
Toby Booth sounded hopeful that solutions are in hand, or if not solutions then, at the very least, ways of decreasing the pressure on players by allowing greater recovery time and fewer games:
I understand proposals are coming that, for the majority of players, will allow people to recover and not have so much weekly load put through them, but we need those proposals from Premiership Rugby quickly so we can keep working to ease the situation…
…although the rather ominously the article ends:
Premiership Rugby were contacted by TRP and confirmed they remain locked in talks with the RFU and Rugby Players’ Association with no announcement date set.
Suggestions to reduce the number and severity of injuries include a winter-break, possibly as early as the 2019/20 season, with Booth himself expressing the opinion that Premiership sides need ‘deeper, more resilient squads, and a fully functioning academy‘.
Over the last two seasons Cov, in a similar but scaled down way, have been doing exactly that.
Irrespective of whether Cov go up this season or next, the building process started some time ago.
Sam Skennel was absolutely right when he made the point in a comment on a recent post that originally this wasn’t the season that was being targeted for promotion – this was going to be year two of a three-year plan, a year which would see us push on from an initial period of consolidation, aiming for a top two/three finish in April.
As it happens, concern that the Championship might be ring-fenced come the end of next season meant that Jon Sharp, together with Rowland Winter, made the decision to recruit strongly and give the club the chance of promotion this season, although still being prepared for a further challenge over the next couple of seasons if required. Rowland Winter signed a 3 year contract over the summer, confirming he’s here for the long-haul.
Next season’s recruitment must be something of a juggling act, with players probably unwilling to commit themselves to a team that as of now isn’t guaranteed Championship rugby. The coaches also have to plan for another possible year in National One, so it can’t be easy having to try and square the circle. But the really comforting thing for me is that even with a number of longer-term injuries to key players like Poole, Brown, Stevens and Grove, as well as less serious ones to the likes of White and Brazier, Cov has still managed to have plenty of strength in reserve. Yes, we’ve made use of two or three drs/loan players, but that is far fewer than some teams in out league and the impact of the Development Squad has been immediate, with players like Gray, Jeannot and Asiedu all being given an opportunity to play in the senior side.
Whatever the demands of the Championship on a club, in the last 18 months Jon Sharp and, particularly, Rowland Winter have shown themselves to be canny operators in the area of recruitment. Should we be promoted, I have no doubt that on the basis of the players he has managed to bring in this season, RW will have some experienced players to come in to join a squad that contains a number of players, probably half at least, who will have been together for a couple of seasons at least.
And that continuity and consistency in one of the reasons why the squad is so settled and so many key players are happy to re-sign for next season.
And that is precisely the reason why I expect there to be positive reaction from the players on Saturday. This is a tight group of players, many of whom came together when RW arrived and had known him, and each other, for some time before their arrival. They all say how well they get on and they will have hurt on Saturday following such a disjointed and disappointing performance, hurt for themselves and for each other.
I’m sure, too, that the players will have seen how loyal the supporters have been these past few days; I don’t think I can remember hearing or reading a single comment that has been anything other than realistic and fair, criticising the performance and not the players.
Plenty of disappointment, of course, but not accusations, no sniping. Having lost, the players will want to get straight back out onto the pitch and show it was no more than a blip with strong performance against Esher.
I’ve no idea what to expect from the crowd in terms attendance – will the defeat see a slight reduction on the average gate for the season, for instance?
Maybe, although those that do go will doubtless be roaring Cov on from the very first whistle, if not before.
Hump day tomorrow – over the hill and starting the descent towards the weekend.
Downhill all the way.
And oh my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
I wonder when was the last time a father and son appeared in the same Coventry side?
It could have been as recently as yesterday as both Martin Wolfenden (who was with Cov for the ill-fated 2015/16 season, although injured for most of it) and son Marty were both in the Nighthawks’ squad to face the British Army. Seems a bit of an unfair match-up to me, but still…
Hopefully, both Wolfenden’s were on the pitch together, although it’s probably not a first for them.
I know I’ve felt like this before, but now I’m feeling it even more,
Because it came from you.
And then I open up and see the person falling here is me,
A different way to be.
One of The Cranberries biggest singles, and one which illustrates just what a great voice she had. Hauntingly so in this, as it happens.
A troubled life.
Ended tragically early.