Sanzar schedule means more injuries
Sanzar’s decision to lengthen the international rugby season has come at quite a cost and none more so than to player welfare, with injuries spiralling like never before.
While Vodacom Super Rugby and the new Castle Rugby Championship have introduced new formats in the past two years, the extra workload on players has seen both Australia and South Africa sit with ever increasing player injuries, as seasons are longer and more intense.
This has also played havoc with the traditional medical insurance for rugby players, with the current system now outdated and the pressures on insurance companies can have far-reaching consequences for the future of the game.
There is no doubt that in South Africa squads have become bigger, and especially now in the Currie Cup, and to a lesser extent Super Rugby, team composition has become younger, as older players either retire earlier or seek alternative employment in the cash-rich havens of Europe or Japan.
Yet, while this is an increasing concern in the game, there are no plans to counter the growing trend by the governing body Sanzar, and no plans to extend squads or change the season around.
Most of the focus of late has been on the sixth South African franchise and the decision to let the Kings in at the expense of the Lions, but the ever increasing travel and physical burden on the players calls for a rethink on player welfare, for the long-term good of the game.
If not then the current Sanzar Super Rugby and Rugby championship regime will eventually kill off all the good that is happening in rugby, and thin out playing reserves in future.
It might sound like a conspiracy theory, but there is real evidence that teams are encountering many more injuries, and this cannot be good for the game.
To say players are playing too much is hardly the answer, and not a theory supported by Brendan Venter, SA under-20 assistant coach, former Springbok and medical doctor, who is Saru’s medical representative in charge of injuries in the professional game.
Venter believes the way the game has changed has warranted bigger and fitter players, and the structures simply haven’t kept up with the changes.
“There isn’t really a thing as fatigued rugby players; to say players burn out is not true. Players don’t train themselves to death,” Venter told supersport.com.
“The number of games has gone up however, and it is logical to say that the risk of injuries has gone up with it. On top of it all, the modern game sees the ball in play more, and the intensity of higher class rugby is more as well, which also ups the risks for players. Add to that the fact that players are bigger and stronger than 10 years before and the collisions are bigger. It makes injuries an unfortunate reality in the modern game.”
“In my playing days we worked, so it was a rare occurrence to see players in the gym, but now everyone is bigger in the gym.”
Venter points out that that the magical number of games seems to have been decided on with Super Rugby and test rugby giving top players around 25-30 games a year -- “that means there are just over 20 weeks a year that players do not play matches.”
But still there are injuries, and that is becoming a concern in terms of professional rugby’s medical insurance.
“Look a lot of injuries is freak injuries, and they happen,” Venter explains. “But it is becoming an issue in terms of insurance. You must remember those values were pinned around 10 years ago, and the problem at the moment in rugby is that the risk has increased for injuries. The flip side is that medicine has advanced so much more that players have better treatment and modern medicine is able to do so much more for players than 20 years ago.
“But it doesn’t stop insurance companies from being under pressure if more players are getting injured. They have to stand in for the salaries of players who are injured and unfortunately rugby is a cruel game where a player can be worth R2.5-million one day and if he is injured, he is worthless to his union as he can’t play.”
“All I can see is that the insurance will become more expensive for players, especially as the risks have changed.”
But unless Sanzar come up with a better solution that protects players more and reduces the injury rate, teams will continue to field younger combinations. And in the long run, SA Rugby may suffer a lot more.