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Your Field Guide to Rugby Safety

Rugby is a thrilling, fast-paced sport of strategy, teamwork, and athleticism. This time-honored sport, rooted in tradition and history, is also known to be high-risk due to the intense nature of the game and lack of safety gear. Despite the dangers of high-speed collisions, players can minimize their risks by playing responsibly and skillfully.

“Several studies have shown that injury prevention programs can be effective for rugby players,” says Brett Toresdahl, MD, associate professor of orthopedics at University of Utah Health. “These evidence-based warmup techniques and drills (strength, balance, agility, etc.) prevent injuries for players of various ages and abilities.”

What Are the Most Common Rugby Injuries?

Similar to American football, rugby involves high-speed tackles and quick changes in direction (sprinting, twisting, turning, etc.). These factors put athletes of both sports at risk for common injuries such as concussions, ACL tears, and muscle strains.

"Rugby and football are both high-risk sports, but injury rates are comparable despite the difference in padding due to the differences in tackling rules and techniques,” Toresdahl says. “Rugby players are taught to tackle in a way that reduces head-to-head collisions."

Rugby players, however, face unique challenges due to their minimal safety gear. Common injuries include:

  • Scalp laceration: A head injury caused by various plays such as scrums, rucks, and tackles.
  • “Cauliflower ear”: An ear deformity caused by blunt-force trauma to exposed ears.
  • Shoulder dislocation: A painful injury caused by a wrapping tackle and hard fall to the ground.

How Can Rugby Players Stay Safe on the Field?

Here are some tips for preventing minor and game-changing injuries:

  • Stay in game-day shape. Rugby requires great skill and practice, so it’s important to keep up with regular routine training and conditioning. This includes weight training, warm-up drills, and cardio workouts.
  • Know the rules of the game. Learn the basics of safe tackling, rucking, and scrummaging before embarking on your first rugby match. Before going in for the big tackle, follow your coach’s guidance and be mindful of technique.
  • Gear up for safety. Although safety gear is limited in rugby, you can still protect yourself with a scrum cap, ear tape, or a well-fitted mouth guard. In some cases, padding may be used during practice. 
  • Know when to call it. Fatigue can lead to sloppy plays and increase the likelihood of injuries. When tiredness sets in, it’s time to rehydrate and start your cool-down and recovery routine.

By following these basic guidelines, you can minimize your risks and enjoy the thrill of the game. Remember, rugby is a fun, fast-paced sport meant to be enjoyed by athletes and fans. Practice good sportsmanship, follow the rules, and—most importantly—enjoy your time on the field with your teammates.