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Minnows left 'bruised' by overcrowded schedule


Chris Hewett
Saturday 24 September 2011 00:00 BST

If the World Cup organisers are unwilling to accept the evidence of their own eyes when it comes to the rank injustice of a fixture list that makes life next to impossible for the likes of Georgia and Namibia, perhaps they will take appropriate notice of someone who really knows about the serious issues associated with this scandal.

James Robson, the Scotland team doctor whose work with the British and Irish Lions on recent tours has placed him in the front rank of sports medics, made it clear yesterday that the programming should be addressed ahead of the 2015 tournament in England.

"While I'm absolutely conscious of the commercial needs of world rugby, we do have to see if there's some other format for the future," he said, reacting to questions about the four-day gaps between matches imposed on the smaller nations and the consequent demands placed on personnel who under normal circumstances would never be expected to play two Test matches in less than a week. "I'll be welcoming dialogue at the forthcoming International Rugby Board medical conference in London," Robson added. "I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about."

Besides the gross unfairness of sacrificing the so-called "minnows" on the altar of broadcasting schedules – the rights-holding television companies who finance this competition want the big teams playing at weekends, when viewing figures can be maximised – there are now concerns in some quarters that four-day gaps may pose a threat to well-being. IRB officials have been heard to argue that the introduction of a more equitable format would force a reduction of the number of competing teams from 20 to 16, but others believe a sensible balance can be struck without narrowing the field.

"I've been observing international rugby for 20 years now and I feel reasonably confident and comfortable in saying that if Scotland play at Murrayfield on a Saturday, it is Tuesday or Wednesday before I am able to see the players train adequately and fully," Robson remarked. "And that's training, not playing another game. I believe it takes at least four days to recover from the rigours of a Test match.

"There's no good evidence to suggest that by turning round in four days you have a greater injury rate. I don't think it's dangerous. But people are battered and bruised, quite sore and quite stiff. It's a hard ask for them to perform at their best four days later... the desirable minimum between matches would be at least five days, ideally between six and eight... I don't think the 'minnows' necessarily have the conditioning time available to the top-tier teams."

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