JAMES SHIELD: Old habits die hard between the two codes

RUGBY Union’s powers-that-be have good cause to be concerned by research which appears to suggest the 15-man code is the most dangerous sport of all.

“Red alert as the injury crisis worsens,” screamed one recent newspaper headline before the article below detailed the excruciating physical toll being paid by those who play it.

Damaged anterior cruciate ligaments, hamstring and calf muscle strains, dead legs and, predictably, concussion are the most common injuries reported during the professional era while concerns are being expressed about the long-term impact upon the health of the first generation of men to explicitly earn their living from the game.

However, a word of caution.

While I have the utmost respect for those involved in this most combative of businesses, such bodies of work should always be taken with a hefty pinch of salt.

An exercise during my student days, when I was schooled in statistical analysis, proved how different answers could be elicited from individuals asked the same question depending purely on how it was phrased.

While not seeking to cast doubt upon the accuracy of the RFU’s sports science and medical experts’ findings, Talking Sport does wonder whether those taking part in, say, this weekend’s meeting between France and Scotland face quite the same level of risk or punishment as Tomas Rojas and Nobuo Nashiro who will shortly contest the WBC super-flyweight title.

Or their counterparts in MMA.

But the governing body is right to be concerned.

Correct to consider this issue as being of the utmost importance.

“If you train too much the risk of injury is higher,” one expert pointed-out. “But if you train too little then the risk is also higher because you are not battle hardened.

“The alarm bells are still ringing but people have heard them and are starting to act on them.

“But there really is no alternative.

“What other sport or profession would accept a quarter of the workforce being injured with a large proportion requiring surgery?”

The answer, surely, is none.

What has struck me though is how, as the rugby league season prepares to get underway, some of the folk I know who follow union, (admittedly those with no medical responsibilities or expertise), seem to believe the data concerned constitutes a bloody badge of honour.

Old rivalries are, it seems, as entrenched as the dangers facing those involved.