This week we will be mostly concerning ourselves with rugby’s injury epidemic. Yes, once again.
Are you not entertained?
Heaven knows the internet loves a list so here’s one for you to chew over.
Can you tell what it is yet? Yep, you’ll be seeing none of these guys come next month’s Test series: they are all out injured.
Our list is not much to look at, to be fair. It would never feature in a list of the world’s long lists.
But do please bear in mind that we’ve restricted it to just 15 household names drawn from only six nations. Presenting you with a full, comprehensive list of the infirm would present too great a strain on your scrolling muscles.
Indeed, we risk doing ourselves an injury by carping on about injuries yet again. But, like the players themselves, we feel duty-bound to keep bashing our heads against the wall.
The situation is spiralling out of control, and November’s incoming teams are faring no better. Indeed, our listed few are fresh from the off-season. Next month’s tourists have been limping from game to game since before Donald Trump set up shop in the White House – and we all know how long ago that feels.
But in the interests of parity we’ll add one absentee from the other side of the equator: Israel Folau.
He’s been on such blistering hot form that the Wallabies have granted him permission to sit out the tour.
Now, if the previous sentence failed to cock your eyebrow, you’ve been supping at rugby’s Kool-Aid for far too long.
Loose Pass always finds it instructive to relate these sort of decrees to our rugby-gnostic friends (well, friend) and it’s always quite instructive.
“So you’re saying that amazing Aussie bloke is not going to play against England?”
“No, he’s negotiated a break as part of his contract with the Australian union.”
“Is he getting on a bit?”
“No, far from it! He’s smack-bang in his prime!”
“So a break during the season? Smack-bang in his prime? During internationals? Aren’t they supposed to be the pinnacle?”
“Well, yes, but it’s just the end-of-season tour. It’s not that critical.”
“Oh, okay. But hang on: why are the tickets so expensive? Why is everyone getting so excited about it?”
“Well, I suppose it sort of foreshadows the World Cup – that’s the main gig. Hence his need to keep his powder dry.”
“Ah, okay – that makes sense. I read about that. It starts this week, right?”
“No, that’s the Rugby League World Cup.”
“Oh, okay. So next year?”
“It’s the following year. 2019. Tail end of.”
“Riiiiiiight. My round?”
It’s embarrassing really. As fans we continue to queue for supposed blockbusters that are actually devoid of A-listers. If they weren’t so busy paying lip-service to player welfare, rugby’s blazers should make a bid for The Weinstein Company – they’d clean up.
Now some have accused Loose Pass of whining on about the injury epidemic without ever offering any semblance of a solution.
This is slightly unfair. We’ve lobbied hard for truncated seasons and rallied vehemently against superfluous league play-offs and bit-part competitions such as the Anglo-Welsh Cup.
But, yes, we’d readily conceded that we have no real answer to the growing prevalence of injuries.
Players will continue to get bigger and faster, ensuring that hits will continue to get harder and more damaging. Shortening the season will do little to negate the impulse of force. As Wales veteran Jamie Roberts (a doctor, lest we forget) recently pointed out: “You play one game per season uninjured, and that’s your first.”
So how about this as a possible solution: detune the intensity by doing away with tactical substitutions.
We can’t lay claim it, unfortunately. Brian Moore has been kicking it about for an age, mainly in relation to the scrum which has been totally diminished as a contest since the advent of the bench in 1996. Rob Andrew has also just picked up on it as he continues to fumble about for positive contributions in the wake of the negativity that surrounded his recently published thesis on blame distribution.
The theory is that players would need to apportion their kinetic output over the course of 80 minutes rather than an hour or, indeed, just 20 minutes like those aptly named ‘impact players’ whose main purpose is to exploit the tired, the vulnerable and the weak.
The need to stay on the field should also force players to better assess the manner in which they comport themselves in the tackle and around the breakdown. Chance are they’ll be less rampant enthusiasm and fewer coiled springs. The game’s better players will once again be feted for their staying power and mental strength rather than merely their stats and muscle mass.
Yes, they’d be shenanigans regarding the legitimacy of actual medical substitutions, but they shouldn’t be too hard to control. Say a mandatory one-match lay-off for anyone called from the field during a game.
In our mind it all makes such sense. But there is something missing from our reasoning and that’s you, gentle reader.
Would you accept the considered hit over the piledriver? Would you stand for slightly deflated tyres?
Fans fled Formula One following the introduction of stringent safety measures and one wonders whether World Rugby’s reticence on the issue of injuries stems from a fear of a similar exodus.
Perhaps they’re right. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming them for inaction and simply embrace the fact that violence is not only wholly inseparable from rugby, it’s the reason why we all tune in.
Loose Pass compiled by former Planet Rugby editor Andy Jackson