Risks associated with significant head impact events in elite rugby union

Gregory J. Tierney, John Lawler, Karl Denvir, Kurt McQuilkin, Ciaran K. Simms
  • Brain Injury, August 2016, Taylor & Francis
  • DOI: 10.1080/02699052.2016.1193630

What is it about?

Concussion injuries are a major concern in Rugby Union with direct head impacts being a major cause. This study looked at the main causes of head impacts in Rugby Union as well as specific player techniques that increased the risk of head impact.

Why is it important?

The Tackle phase of play is a major cause of Significant Direct Head Impacts in elite Rugby Union players with the Tackler being much more likely to receive a Significant Direct Head Impact than the Ball Carrier. A number of Tackle related variables that statistically increased the risk of Significant Direct Head Impact occurrence were identified. Significant Direct Head Impact Tackles generally had at least one player entering the Tackle at speed. The majority of Significant Direct Head Impacts due to a Tackle occurred in the second half of the game, with the majority of Upper Body Tackle related Significant Direct Head Impacts occurring in the last quarter of the game. Difference in player mass was statistically significant for Significant Direct Head Impacts related to Upper Body Tackles, with the Ball Carrier on average weighing 12 kg more than the Tackler. For Upper Body Tackles and Lower Body Tackles, Tackler head placement in front of the Ball Carrier was the most important factor for Significant Direct Head Impact occurrence and this was potentially affected by Tackler foot planting for Upper Body Tackles and Ball Carrier change in direction for Lower Body Tackle related Significant Direct Head Impacts.

Perspectives

Mr Gregory J Tierney (Author)
University of Dublin Trinity College

Some interesting conclusions were gained from this study. We coined the terms Upper Body Tackle (UBT) and Lower Body Tackle (LBT) based on impact location on the Ball Carrier (Initial contact above hip = UBT and at or below hip = LBT) It is clear that the tackle is an area of further research as it is a major cause of head impacts and concussion. The majority of tackle related head impacts occurred in the second half and this shows the effect fatigue may have on injury risk. The Ball Carrier on average weighing 12 kg more than the Tackler for Upper Body Tackle related head impacts. The mass difference could potentially have a psychological effect on the Tackler and thus adversely affect tackling proficiency Tackler foot planting was also identified as a risk factor, this can potentially reduce tackler mobility and therefore the chance of placing their head in a safe position.

The following have contributed to this page: Mr Gregory J Tierney