Super Rugby takes its toll

2014-03-30 14:00

Rugby: SA coaches are counting the massive costs of injuries, as are players’ representative bodies

A “minor stroke” suffered by Blues and All Black scrum half Piri Weepu has cast the spotlight on the scourge of illness and injury issues that beset rugby.

Weepu had been suffering sustained, intense headaches during his team’s tour to South Africa and finally went for scans last week to determine what was causing the problem.

Initial thoughts were the problem was migraine related, but the Blues confirmed Weepu had suffered a minor stroke.

He was withdrawn from yesterday’s match between the Blues and the Highlanders, and has been given time to recover.

Although the Blues’ doctor emphasised Weepu’s ailment was “not a rugby-related incident” that could be attributed to a playing or training mishap, the halfback’s predicament draws attention to the ever-intensifying epidemic of injuries suffered by players in Super Rugby and other competitions.

It is concerning some players have suffered recurrences of serious and surgically corrected injuries from the year before, while reports on the weekend’s matches invariably read like a casualty ward bulletin.

While Auckland officials moved to dispel fears rugby might be to blame for Weepu’s setback, there will be worries they might have been caused by the cumulative effect of too much rugby at too intense a level, coupled with the effects of long intercontinental flights.

Piet Heymans, the CEO of the SA Rugby Players’ Association (Sarpa) agrees the high incidence of casualties is worrying and it might be the result of too long a season and too much rugby.

“Injuries are part and parcel of a contact sport like rugby but there is no doubt players around the world are not having enough rest – especially the test players.

“We [Sarpa and other players’ unions] are very concerned about the amount of injuries. The Springboks, especially, are being flogged and we’re looking at measures to ease the load.”

One of the suggestions is for the midyear tours to be moved to July so Super Rugby is completed before players are called up for test match duty.

Heymans conceded feedback from players confirmed they dread the current Super Rugby format with its many punishing local derbies and extended time frame.

South African coaches are counting the massive costs caused by injuries (see graphic), and Heymans said players’ representative bodies are also looking at whether the application of the laws might be contributing to the rate of attrition.

“Look, it might just be the players have become too big and too fast with all the training they do – that their muscles have been built up to an extent their skeletal and ligament structures can’t cope with – but the frequency of injuries is unacceptable,” he added.

“There are other contributing factors such as players masking injuries because of their desire to play, the pressure on coaches to produce results and injured guys coming back too soon, but there is no doubt it can’t go on like this.”

Casualty ward: SA conference*

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