As a rugby coach I’m sure I wasn’t alone in shouting at the telly this morning when I heard the news that a bunch of health professionals had written to the Welsh Health Minister, asking him to ban tackling in schools under 18 rugby.
This article in the SWEP gives a decent summary of the story.
It’s difficult to know where to start with the complete wrong-headedness of this approach. But I’ll try.
Firstly, there’s the statement that rugby is “part and parcel” of school life in Wales. Well that’s not true for starters. As Wales “attack” coach Rob Howley has told us, schools rugby was decimated by the teachers’ strike in the 1980s, and we’re still feeling the effects of this now, as demonstrated by, er, the attacking shortcomings of our national team, coached by, er, Rob Howley.
But seriously. Take tackling and scrums away from rugby, and what do you have left? A different sport, that’s what. A sport which gets very boring, very quickly. Just ask any under 8s player at your local mini section. Most of them are chomping at the bit to get stuck in to contact.
Ah yes. The local mini section. You know, the factory which supplies the future stars of Team Wales. The medics’ letter seems to have completely overlooked that fact that most children in Wales start their rugby journey not at school, but in their local club at the ages of 6 or 7. Schools don’t start taking rugby seriously until kids are at least 9 or 10, by which time the best players will have learned their skills at their local club, coached by unpaid volunteers like me.
When you go for your coaching training with the WRU, the most important thing which is drummed into you is safety. Ensuring the training and coaching environment is safe for kids. Making sure you have trained first aiders and first aid facilities. Learning to recognise risks to injury, and identify serious conditions such as concussion. Teaching kids how to tackle and be tackled safely. Do these things right, and you’re already a long way towards avoiding serious injuries altogether.
Bumps and bruises happen in almost every kids’ sport. The onus is on the responsible adults (“responsible” is the key word here) to ensure the sport is as safe as possible. The WRU, clubs, coaches, parents and teachers have a collective responsibility to ensure that junior rugby is managed safely. If there are shortcomings in any area then these need to be called out and addressed, which by and large, they are.
If you take tackling out of rugby, it’s not rugby any more. It’s Touch Rugby, or Tag Rugby. Both sports have their merits. They help kids to develop basic skills like passing and catching. But they’re different sports. Are we seriously suggesting that the first time a boy or girl makes a tackle on a rugby pitch would be on their 18th birthday? Seriously? What sort of preparation is that for professional rugby?
Walking and cycling to school are far more dangerous activities than rugby, in terms of the risks of injury. But we’re not talking about banning motor vehicles from our roads.
This is daft.