Friday, September 29, 2017

Maybe don't ban tackles & scrums, but don't choke tackle the messenger either

Before we settle down for another exciting weekend of rugby here at Harpin Manor there’s just about time for a mini-rant on this week's talking point about doctors suggesting tackles and scrums are banned from schools rugby.   Judging from what I've read in articles and comments from the ruggersphere, my views are very much in a minority but frankly I think the whole issue is being distorted.

Players want to play well and win.  Coaches want to teach players how to play well and win.  Fans want to watch their favourite players play well and win.  The whole reason we either engage in or follow these sports is that we are pursuing an ideal.

So when medical professionals dare to suggest that we play the game differently, of course we don't want to hear it.  Who in their right mind wants to hear a doctor tell them the way they are living their lives is detrimental to their health?

Yet I have to say the arguments sent back at these medical officers have been weak to say the least, and they have come both from figures I respect and those I don't.

First we have Piers Morgan confronting Professor Allyson Pollock on morning TV.  Basically his rebuttal amounted to [a] MY son plays rugby, got injured, and was there! [b] you're ignoring the fact that playing rugby has positive elements like getting fit, and [c] I have a quote here from some other doctor who completely refutes your findings.

Each argument is easy to counter with common sense, though he was able to interrupt her attempts to do so by moving on to his next point quickly, thus creating a 'well there's clearly two sides to this' appearance he is well used to forging in the political realm.  Having former England international Maggie Alphonsi there to back him up didn’t hurt.  In rugby parlance, Pollock is ‘left badly isolated’.

In Nigel Owens’ case, he produces an absurdist example to which I always find people turn when they feel they're losing an argument.  Nobody said anything about walking to school.  Nor did they say anything about using pencils.  Yet to many, this formulation will often be met with much laughter and agreement as though it is some kind of clincher.

At least former England captain Will Carling attempted to find an alternative suggestion, namely grouping kids by weight instead of age.  I'm not totally against that idea, but I don't fully accept the 'They've been doing it in NZ for years' premise either.  I'm not sure we're comparing like with like - Britain and Ireland have much more competition when it comes to team sports and my first thoughts go to the smaller 16-year-old kids [of which I was never one, I was a prop] who may be turned off the idea of taking up the game if it means they have to play with those much younger.

Of course I want the game to continue to be played at all levels as it is.  I'm a rugby fan...just look at the volume of content I throw on this site, I think that's proof enough.  But I'm also a parent, not to mention a human being.  I know there are realities we can't ignore.  And while I haven't had an iota of medical training, I can at least appreciate that we rely heavily on those who have and we need to listen to them, not set them up for ridicule.

Because if we want to talk about using extreme examples to prove our point, remember this - changing the age at which kids throw themselves at each other is far from the furthest extreme to which these doctors can go.  From their point of view, one which has seen all too many different types of injuries on their treatment tables, the best way by far to prevent them is to stop playing the sport altogether, and I have yet to hear them suggest that.

All I’m saying is that we need an informed discussion, while acknowledging that these people are trying to inform us not berate us.  So what say we listen rather than try to kick them to touch with soundbytes and hide the issue like it’s contact sport’s answer to climate change.  JLP

Previous post on a similar topic


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019