The important forum will bring together game administrators, competition owners, coaches, referees, players, media and medical staff to consider the latest global injury data and trends, examine strategies to reduce injuries at the breakdown, and consider initial feedback from the package of six injury-prevention law trials.

The forum will also feature a dedicated breakdown working group meeting to consider playing and injury trends and potential law trials for an area of the game that is accountable for approximately nine per cent of match injuries, but with an higher than average severity in the elite game.

Data-driven approach paying dividends

Data from 2018 presented at the 2019 meeting confirmed that rugby’s injury-prevention focus is having a positive impact illustrated by the following global highlights:

  • Match injury incidence in elite rugby has remained generally stable (with a decrease in some competitions), while concussion rates across 22 elite competitions reduced by an average of 17.5 per cent.
  • With the tackle accounting for up to 50 per cent of all match injuries, the injury risk per tackle in elite rugby is also indicating a decreasing trend as, despite increased ball in play time of three minutes since 2011, injury incidence has remained stable
  • At Rugby World Cup 2019 there was an overall reduction in injury rates from 90 injuries per 1,000 player hours to 83 injuries per 1,000 player hours, while concussion incidence also reduced versus 2015
  • The game’s collective commitment is having a significant impact on global fan perceptions with 30 per cent of the public across 13 nations participating in research conducted by Nielsen believing rugby is safer than it was five years ago compared to 16 per cent disagreement, an 11 per cent positive perception increase since 2018.

A sport unified in injury-prevention focus

Beaumont said: “The sport is unified in its commitment to ensure that rugby is as safe, simple and enjoyable to play for all. As a sport, I believe that we are leaders and strong progress has been made in recent years to reduce injury rates, specifically in concussion, via an evidence-based approach.

“The inaugural player welfare and laws symposium was certainly the catalyst for a breakthrough injury-prevention year in 2019, culminating in a 28 per cent reduction in concussion incidence at Rugby World Cup 2019 compared to the average from 22 elite competitions in 2018.

“We also launched the Activate injury-prevention exercise programme, launched a package of injury-prevention focused law trials, while our High Tackle Sanction Framework is proving pivotal in changing player behaviour from high-risk upright tackles to reduced risk lower height tackles, which is encouraging.”

Initiatives launched in 2019 as a result of the forum include:

  • Launch across 105 unions of the Activate injury-prevention exercise and warm-up programme which reduces the risk of soft-tissue injuries by 26 and 40 per cent and concussion risk by 29 and 60 per cent in youth and adult rugby players respectively
  • Launch of the High Tackle Sanction Framework, which is designed to reduce the risk of concussion by changing player behaviour from high-risk upright to lower-risk bent-at-the-waist tackles, with positive behaviour change evident at Rugby World Cup 2019 contributing to a 30 per cent reduction in concussion rates
  • Expansion of the package of mandatory medical and player welfare requirements for which elite competitions worldwide must comply in order to access the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) process, including mandatory uniformed injury surveillance, mandatory match day doctor and mandatory video review
  • Implementation of a mandatory player load passport for players competing at Rugby World Cup as an awareness vehicle and to encourage best-practice training load management between club and country environments
  • Approval of a package of six law trials specifically designed to reduce injuries at all levels following extensive analysis by the specialist Law Review Group following union submissions and analysis at the 2019 symposium

Beaumont added: “Reducing injury risk in all sports including rugby union requires a detailed understanding of the factors that underpin injury occurrence, a clear and agreed vision of what level of risk is acceptable and a sustained, co-ordinated and innovative approach from game administrators and competition owners, coaches, referees, players and medical staff.

“The 2020 symposium will again bring together all of the game’s key stakeholders to consider progress and examine evidence-based strategies to further reduce the risk of injury for all in the sport. I look forward to informed and open discussion with players at the heart of our thinking.”