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Does “Brutal Physicality” help School Rugby?

by Neil Rollings

School Rugby is under unprecedented pressure.  The mobilisation of the risk lobby, led by Alyson Pollock, has done much to expose the danger of injury from participation and raised awareness that it is illegal for schools to insist on pupils’ involvement.  The RFU does not advocate a compulsory experience of the contact game.

The game, led by its National, and International, Governing Bodies, has done much to reduce risk of injury, and, particularly, to manage head injuries more effectively.  However, it is a game where risk can never be reduced to zero, and where approximately 25% of injuries at all levels of the game are to the head.  For a combination of reasons, including parental sensitivity, fewer children are playing the game in schools than probably at any stage in the last hundred years. 

Against this background, the teachers and coaches who work to enthuse pupils and promote the game’s unique appeal, need all the support they can get.  It is not helpful, therefore, when Eddie Jones, the national coach, announces publicly that the England team will perform with “brutal physicality” in a forthcoming game against France.  He is an employee of the same organisation – the RFU – that is spending time, energy and resources to promote the game as a safe and enjoyable pastime for children. 

Certainly, he has a responsibility to maximise the chance of his team winning in the competitive cauldron of the Six Nations Championships.  But he also needs to have a wider concern for the game itself.   It is an uncomfortable concept that chances of being successful in any game are improved through greater “brutality”.  It is not one that will sit comfortably with sensitive mothers of precious children.  The game faces enough challenges without battling against a self-inflicted negative image.  Within the microcosm of professional Rugby, “brutal physicality” might be applauded as a positive quality.   The rest of the world, especially that of education, might judge this differently.

The value of the game in schools lies in its capacity to promote teamship, selflessness, commitment, courage and camaraderie.  To stimulate lifelong memories and friendships, through a game based on excitement, skill, evasion and a degree of physical contact.  It is a tool in the bag of educators to help develop desirable outcomes in children.  Brutality is not one of those qualities.  The forbiddingly physical nature of the players in the shop window doesn’t suggest that it is a game for all children.  The concept that it is necessary to be brutal and physical to be successful in the game is disturbing.

Let’s look forward to a time when the national Rugby coach might predict “breathtaking creativity” as the route to competitive success.  Particularly as his more threatening rhetoric was spectacularly unsuccessful