World Rugby has defended its record on protecting players after the authors of a study investigating injury levels in retired participants called for more to be done.
Researchers led by Durham University’s sport and exercise scientists said both union and league codes should step up efforts to prevent recurrent injuries and do more to help former players.
The study found concussion was the most common injury among players, with back pain and knee ligament damage also frequently reported.
Osteoarthritis was twice as common among elite rugby players compared to athletes playing non-contact sports, the study found.
World Rugby, rugby union’s governing body, said it welcomed the research which was published in the academic journal Sports Medicine.
But its chief medical officer Dr Eanna Falvey said improvements have been made to the sport since the playing days of many of the retired players who were surveyed.
He said: “These advances have led to a stabilisation of injury rates over the last decade and critically a year-on-year reduction in concussion rates from 2017.
“Taking Rugby World Cup 2019 as an example, the overall injury incidence was reduced from 2015 and the concussion rate was reduced by 28 per cent, which reflects our ongoing commitment to protecting our players at all levels.
“Injury prevention programmes such as Activate and Rugby Ready and robust training load management (understanding that different players have different injury risk profiles) will also have a potentially significant beneficial impact on these long-term health impacts.”
Report author Dr Karen Hind from the Department of Sport and Exercise Sciences at Durham University had suggested reducing the number of players on the pitch to decrease the number of collisions.
But World Rugby said research showed the highest injury rates were found in Sevens – the form of the game with the fewest numbers on the pitch.
It said it was “not true” to say the Rugby World Cup in Japan saw a number of issues with high tackles and dangerous play leading to injuries, as it recorded the lowest number of injuries per 1,000 player hours of any modern World Cup.