Warning: Cup could damage your health

World Cup countdown: The running and tackling, the rucking and mauling, will be harder than ever - at what cost?

The good news for players competing in the fifth World Cup is that the level of medical care in Australia will be second to none. The not-so-good news is that the doctors and nurses expect to be busy.

Reviewing data from previous tournaments and matches, Dr John Best, one of Australia's medical co-ordinators, predicts an average of four injuries per game: 20 per cent to the head and face, 45 per cent to the lower limbs. It is anticipated that an ambulance will be used at one in 10 matches. An injury is defined as a player leaving the field or receiving significant medical attention.

At every stadium there will be a sports doctor, an ortho-paedic surgeon, a plastic surgeon, an anaesthetist, a dentist and an X-ray nurse. In each city there will be a sports doctor on 24-hour call.

"The Australians will provide a comprehensive level of medical provision,'' Dr Simon Kemp, the Rugby Football Union's head of sports medicine, said. "When England played Australia in Melbourne we had a trial run, and everything was first-class.''

One of the strengths of the International Rugby Board is that they have almost 100 members throughout the world; one of their weaknesses is that the game's power and wealth is concentrated in so few countries. When the Ivory Coast qualified for the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, the celebrations of the West African country were completely overshadowed by the spinal injury suffered by the wing Max Brito against Tonga. A tetraplegic, he received specialist treatment in South Africa before being flown home.

"We became involved in money-raising events for Max, but there was very little support from Rugby World Cup,'' Damian Hopley, the head of the Professional Rugby Players' Association, said.

Harvey Thorneycroft, the former Northampton wing, organised a tour to Ghana and the Ivory Coast to raise funds, and South Africa also played their part. "At the professional end, players now have good cover at club and international level,'' Hopley said. "They are fully aware of the fragility of their careers. At the other end, there's no such cover, and we are very concerned about the potential effect of mismatches.''

When Brito was paralysed, the system was that the cost of emergency treatment was borne by all the unions from a general fund. This time it is the responsibility of the individual country. They are being encouraged to take out insurance cover, but it's a low priority for the likes of Romania, Georgia, Samoa and Uruguay, who struggle to keep a squad together.

In this World Cup, as in every other, there will be one-sided contests, although it does not necessarily follow that weaker teams will suffer a disproportionate number of injuries. "We don't have information relating to one-sided matches,'' Dr Kemp said, "but my view is that the physicality of a match will drive up the injury rate. I would expect it to be higher for England against South Africa than, say, England against Uruguay. The game, of course, has got harder and faster, and with more powerful players you expect the collisions to be more ferocious.

"Intuitively you feel there is an increased risk of injury, but there's a counterside. Players are better conditioned to cope. Catastrophic injuries, like the one suffered by Max Brito, are very rare at the élite level. The statistical average is that they shouldn't occur more than once in every four World Cups."

Dr Kemp, not to mention the RFU, the Premiership clubs and Leicester University, is involved in a world-leading injury audit that records injuries sustained in play and training. The aim is to produce a definitive study leading to a programme of prevention. "This is 20 times bigger than any previous study, and the report will be published in 12 months,'' said Dr Kemp. "What we have already discovered is that the injury rate is higher at Test rugby than in the Premiership.''

As for insurance cover, England Rugby, worried by rising premiums, are looking at forming a discretionary trust to serve the specific needs of professional competitors. In the meantime, the players are wearing more protective gear.

"I just hope,'' said Hopley, "that everybody has learned something from the Max Brito affair.'' The PRA run a benevolent fund and have worked closely with Andy Blyth, the Sale centre who suffered a spinal injury at Saracens three seasons ago and who has recovered the use of his legs.

Hopley has first-hand experience of a career-threatening injury, and the frustrations of dealing with the authorities. A Wasps threequarter in 1996, he captained England in the Hong Kong Sevens and was invalided out with a knee injury. He spent 15 months in rehab, made a brief return, suffered a recurrence and was forced to retire at 27.

Hopley sought compensation from the RFU. "I never received a penny. They didn't feel they had any responsibility, even though I was captain of England when I got injured. I was one of the first casualties of professional rugby. I had some insurance, but I struggled to pay my medical bills. I'm still disgusted at the RFU's archaic attitude. Basically they told me to sling my hook. Still, every cloud and all that. If it hadn't happened I wouldn't be doing the job I'm doing now.''

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
News
i100
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

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor