The delegates considered the latest data, research, medical opinion and sports science innovations to shape best-practice medical policy making and tackle player welfare issues facing the game at both the elite and community levels.
Preliminary analysis of like-for-like Union elite injury data indicates that while injury rates increased in the late 1990s with the onset of professionalism, average injury rates (based on missed matches) are no longer increasing and have now returned to pre-professional levels despite the increased size and speed of players and the increased number of contact events such as tackles and rucks in elite rugby.
Despite medical policies driving player welfare best practice, the Conference delegates underscored the collective commitment within rugby to further tackle the controllable factors that can cause up to 50 percent of all injuries through the promotion of the correct techniques for playing, refereeing and preparing to play the game.
With expert presentations and workshops triggering in-depth discussion, four main topics were comprehensively evaluated:
- The role of the independent matchday doctor in immediate concussion diagnosis and blood injury assessment
- The role of GPS as a tool in managing player loads and the impact on player welfare
- The need for the global dissemination of concussion education for players, coaches and parents at every level of the game
- The role that the ECG could play in enhancing the player cardiac screening programme.
Injury prevention recommendations were then formed to present to the IRB Executive Committee and/or IRB Rugby Committee for consideration.
1. Matchday Doctor: Specialist working group to be established to consider the feasibility of widening the scope of the independent match doctor to rule on diagnosis of concussion or blood injuries to further promote player welfare best practice.
2. GPS: Further consideration to be given to the role of GPS in assisting Unions with injury prevention.
3. Concussion Education: Viral education programme to be developed in collaboration with Unions and IRPA to educate players at all levels regarding the dangers of concussion to compliment new best-practice interactive IRB education website which will go live next month.
4. Cardiac Screening: Working group to be established to ascertain whether there is a role for the ECG to play in the cardiac screening programme for IRB tournaments.
IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "The welfare of players at all levels of the game is of critical importance to the IRB and all our 117 Member Unions. Collectively, we have achieved considerable progress.
"The Conference has successfully delivered policies to advance player welfare best practice at all levels in key areas such as concussion, global injury reporting, training and education best practice, cardiac screening and spinal injury recording.
"The identification of these injury prevention focus areas reflects the continued commitment within the global rugby family to 'Putting Players First'.
"These Conference outcomes will drive policy making and the continued dissemination of best practice information to those playing, coaching and officiating the game from grassroots to the elite level. I would like to thank the delegates for their full and committed contribution during the Conference."
IRB Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Martin Raftery, said: "As a sport we want to be viewed as a leader in player welfare in sport. We are committed to delivering the best-possible medical welfare structures for our players to reduce the risk of injuries.
"Rugby is a contact sport and the positive advances that the game has collectively made in sports medicine, education and rugby preparation best-practice in recent years are having a positive impact on the welfare of our players at every level."
Further information on the IRB's Medical and Player Welfare initiatives and policies, including the new concussion guidelines, can be found at www.irbplayerwelfare.com.
Meanwhile, the Medical Department of the IRFU has launched a new section on IrishRugby.ie. The site contains advice on SAFE Rugby, Medical Facilities for clubs, Research and Links and Documentation for medical practitioners involved in rugby. Check out the new section on www.irishrugby.ie/medical.