HomeRugbyRugby IrishAnalysing Rugby Injury Trends: A Comprehensive Look at Player Safety

Analysing Rugby Injury Trends: A Comprehensive Look at Player Safety

Analysing Rugby Injury Trends: A Comprehensive Look at Player Safety

Rugby, a physically demanding sport, sees its players navigating a field of challenges, including the risk of injuries. In this article, we delve into recent statistics to shed light on the frequency and nature of injuries in rugby, differentiating between male and female players and examining trends across various playing levels.

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Overall Injury Frequency: A Comparative Overview

Male players, experiencing a slight increase, now face an average of 17 matches before sustaining an injury, down from the previous 14 matches. Female players, however, maintain the status quo at 25 matches per injury. The injury incidence rate has seen a positive shift for both genders, with a decrease from 55 to 43.3 injuries per 1,000 player hours for men and a marginal increase from 29.8 to 30.3 injuries per 1,000 player hours for women.

School Senior Cup Players: A Closer Look

School Senior Cup players show a noteworthy increase in the number of matches required to incur an injury, rising from 16 to 22 matches. However, the injury incidence rate has decreased from 42.4 to 38.5 injuries per 1,000 player hours compared to the 2019/20 season.

Senior Club Injury Breakdown: Tackles and More

In senior club matches, the tackle remains a significant contributor to injuries. Analyzing injury events, 64% of men’s and 71% of women’s match injuries result from tackles. Further breakdown reveals that 45% of men’s tackle-related injuries are sustained by the ball carrier, while 55% are sustained by the tackler. For women, 66% of tackle-related injuries come from the ball carrier, and 34% from the tackler.

Male Club Match Injury Occurrence: Top Injuries

Examining injury occurrences in male club matches, concussion rates have increased from 7.6 to 9.1 injuries per 1,000 player hours. Conversely, ankle ligament sprains have decreased from 5.3 to 5, and hamstring strains have seen a slight increase from 4.6 to 4.7 injuries per 1,000 player hours.

Female Club Match Injury Occurrence: Shifting Patterns

In female club matches, ankle sprains have seen a significant rise from 2.9 to 4.3 injuries per 1,000 player hours. Knee sprains have also increased from 1.4 to 3.7 injuries per 1,000 player hours, while concussions have shown a decline from 3.6 to 2.5 injuries per 1,000 player hours.

School Senior Cup Match Injury Occurrence: Notable Reductions

For School Senior Cup matches, concussion rates have decreased from 9.6 to 7.5 injuries per 1,000 player hours. Ankle sprains also exhibit a decline from 4.1 to 3.6, and shoulder dislocation/subluxation has seen a substantial reduction from 7.2 to 2.7 injuries per 1,000 player hours compared to the 2018/19 season.

Dr. Rod McLoughlin, the IRFU’s Medical Director, said: “The injury data provided by the IRIS Project informed IRFU discussions around tackle behaviours, and was a vital component in the IRFU decision to address the tackle behaviour in the domestic game and subsequently to opt into the World Rugby Global Tackle Height Trial. As we look towards the upcoming 2023/24 season, we will be able to accurately compare injury rates before and after the law change. These data allow us to better understand the impact of lowering the tackle height and improving tackle technique on injury rates, injury severity and injury mechanisms.”  
“We are encouraged to see the ongoing support from our clubs and schools working with the IRIS Project. Thank you to each and every club, school, data collector, volunteer, player and researcher that is part of this project. Your continued support is a fundamental component of how we protect player health and wellbeing.”
Prof. Ian Kenny, IRIS co-principal investigator at the University of Limerick, added: “The Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) project involves research stemming from ongoing sports performance and injury prevention work by University of Limerick academics across a range of sports, as well as our specific expertise in Rugby Union. The IRIS group are working closely with the IRFU to use these data to answer pertinent questions for the game for example tackle height effect, ENGAGE injury reduction programme effects, and women’s game specific issues.”  


Dr. Tom Comyns, IRIS co-princial investigator at the University of Limerick, said: “The longitudinal nature of the IRIS project has resulted in the project impacting on the practices within the amateur game in Ireland. The data collected has helped inform practice which aims to enhance player welfare. The support from the IRFU together with the clubs, schools, and  players has been instrumental for the the IRIS project and the research team thank all for their continued support and involvement”.

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