Doctor calls for ban on scrums

Last updated at 11:50 26 May 2006

A leading doctor called today for a ban on "contested scrums" in rugby union because of the risk of causing serious spinal injuries.

James Bourke said he had "changed his opinion" on the issue because of the severe injuries he had seen during his career.

Contested scrums occur when the teams' opposing sets of forwards "bind" together and push against each other in an attempt to win the ball following a restart.

Mr Bourke, a consultant general surgeon at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, is also honorary medical officer to the city's National League Division One club.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he said that over the 30 years he had been at Nottingham Rugby Club he had seen seven serious spinal cord injuries, six of which were related to the contested scrum.

Two of the young players are now wheelchair-dependent, he said.

He explained: "The incidents involving the two young players who are now wheelchair-dependent occurred recently in my experience in rugby union and have caused me to change my opinion on contested scrums.

"The consequences of injury are so great that the continuing risk of injury cannot be accepted."

Contested scrums were banned in Australian rugby league in 1996 and there have been no acute spinal cord injuries since, the BMJ article said.

But a recent study on Australian rugby union found that, between 1997 and 2002, 39 per cent of injured players became permanently dependent on a wheelchair.

The study also concluded that the laws of scrum engagement in rugby union and the amount of insurance cover for injured players are grossly inadequate.

Mr Bourke said rugby union should follow the example of rugby league in Australia and ban contested scrums.

He added: "Rugby union outlawed the 'flying wedge' and the 'cavalry charge' as they are potentially dangerous. It should now also outlaw the contested scrum."

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