David Flatman: The risks will only get worse, but there's no simple answer

View from the front row with Bath & England prop

Contrary to what the armchair cynic might assume, seeing Andrew Sheridan dislocate his shoulder last week made me feel horrible. Of course, an injury to any man with whom one is in direct competition can only improve one's chances of a call-up, but in this instance I felt nothing but sympathy for my old friend.

Perhaps it is because I have been where he is – in bed, in pain – and know exactly what he is going through. Apart from the physical discomfort, it is the feeling of uselessness that seems to affect the sidelined rugby player most severely. Knowing that all of your mates are out on the field running around, while you sip water to stave off the painkiller-induced cottonmouth and flick between Cash in the Attic and This Morning on the television, is utterly soul destroying. As much as you might crave the week off at the moment your alarm clock sounds in the early winter dark, a good injury lay-off is all it takes to make you appreciate being fully fit.

Sheridan is, however, just another name to add to England's truly unfortunate list of injuries; Lee Mears has hurt his knee and will be out for up to two months and Danny Cipriani, Tom Rees, Riki Flutey, Jordan Turner-Hall and Delon Armitage have been ruled out of the autumn internationals through injury. This week Phil Vickery was added to that list, having suffered a neck injury which now needs corrective surgery.

At the risk of sounding like an omniscient pensioner, this is all symptomatic of the modern-day game. Nobody is surprised at the amount of blokes getting hurt, are they? As becomes more and more visible with every passing weekend, the game as we once knew it is dead. Those taking part are now significantly bigger, more powerful and better prepared than ever. The thing is – and I'm no doctor, so excuse the assumption of knowledge – the bones, ligaments, tendons and cartilage do not quite seem to be managing to keep up with the annual rate of muscular inflation. Serious injury is, as one physiotherapist put it to me recently, only a scrum away.

But is there anything we can do to arrest this trend? Well, resting players, as we saw two weeks ago in Cardiff when Harlequins tried it, does not go down well. Perhaps it is the game itself that needs tinkering with.

Like all prop forwards in the world, I think referees rarely get it right and guess all too often at the scrummage (unless they are awarding me a penalty, in which case I am the first to congratulate them on their set-piece mastery). A while ago, to make the whole area more manageable for the officials and more "safe" for the poor trolls at the coalface, a "touch" was introduced to the engagement process. This, to my mind, achieved roughly nothing. If we wish to reduce the likelihood of catastrophe at scrum time, the engagement itself has to be done away with. As this is sacrosanct – to my barbarian friends and me at least – its abolition is not an option. We front-rowers feel privileged that the part of rugby which encompasses all that is great, confrontational and primal about the game falls under our job spec, so the engagement must stay, and the risk must remain part of the deal. The breakdown, too, is always a potential zone of danger. But unless we ban all bodies from hitting the floor (often head first), the level of potential risk seems set to rise as it always has.

Of course, it is the damaged player who suffers most, closely followed by the helpless coaches and managers whose job it is to select winning teams. But it is not often that the spectator's view is canvassed. These people, rugby's financial lifeblood, pay good money to watch the stars take the field and do battle. Nothing they do can possibly change fate and stop players getting hurt but one must sympathise with the short-changed punter. After all, a ticket to watch Wasps is no cheaper if, like this week, Rees, Vickery, Shaw and Sackey are not playing. Poor old Joe Bloggs.

Realistically, and it pains me to say this, the only possible answer is impossible. Risk is, of course, directly proportional to minutes played. As we all know, fewer games may equal fewer injuries, but sadly it also equals less cash. There has to be a balance in all sports between commercial appeal and athlete welfare but, with rugby seemingly doomed to remain on the breadline, neither side of this see-saw seems to weigh up at all.

So, it seems things are unlikely to change and the likes of Martin Johnson are unlikely to find their selection process any less fractured or problematic. The only thing we can do is what we have always done, what our contracts tell us to do; put in our gum shields, pray for another week's grace and, above all else, try to be bigger and stronger than all the others.

It will click, but we can't sit around and wait for it to happen

It was devastating to lose again yesterday but we've got to be careful that we don't slip into a situation where we're chasing that elusive win.

We've simply got to play how Bath play – we don't want to throw it around everywhere. We've got a structure and we need to stick to the plan. There were times when we didn't get it right and we allowed Newcastle to play some good stuff. If you continue to make errors you will struggle to win. A Bath supporter might say that they got a couple of tries against the run of play but we can't think like that.

We did play some really good rugby but we just couldn't quite finish it off. It's all very well looking fantastic in two thirds of the field, but we also spent too much time in our own 22.

There are intelligent people at this club in terms of the playing staff, and the message is "don't panic". We will allow ourselves some time to sulk but ultimately that will get us nowhere.

There can be no thoughts of us not being able to pull it around. There will come a time when it will click but we can't sit around and wait for it to happen. We will stick to our game and get it right.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines