Tackler’s head position relative to the ball carrier is highly correlated with head and neck injuries in rugby

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Abstract

Objectives

To characterise the tackler’s head position during one-on-one tackling in rugby and to determine the incidence of head, neck and shoulder injuries through analysis of game videos, injury records and a questionnaire completed by the tacklers themselves.

Methods

We randomly selected 28 game videos featuring two university teams in competitions held in 2015 and 2016. Tackles were categorised according to tackler’s head position. The ‘pre-contact phase’ was defined; its duration and the number of steps taken by the ball carrier prior to a tackle were evaluated.

Results

In total, 3970 tackles, including 317 (8.0%) with the tackler’s head incorrectly positioned (ie, in front of the ball carrier) were examined. Thirty-two head, neck or shoulder injuries occurred for an injury incidence of 0.8% (32/3970). The incidence of injury in tackles with incorrect head positioning was 69.4/1000 tackles; the injury incidence with correct head positioning (ie, behind or to one side of the ball carrier) was 2.7/1000 tackles. Concussions, neck injuries, ‘stingers’ and nasal fractures occurred significantly more often during tackles with incorrect head positioning than during tackles with correct head positioning. Significantly fewer steps were taken before tackles with incorrect head positioning that resulted in injury than before tackles that did not result in injury.

Conclusion

Tackling with incorrect head position relative to the ball carrier resulted in a significantly higher incidence of concussions, neck injuries, stingers and nasal fractures than tackling with correct head position. Tackles with shorter duration and distance before contact resulted in more injuries.

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