This Year's Six Nations Championship Will Be Decided Through Injury.

Stephen Jones, the Sunday Times rugby union correspondent, recently included  in his weekly columns the following update on his opinion of the eventual outcome of this year's Six Nations Tournament: an interesting assessment but a sensible choice in view of the problem currently facing the 15 a side code and, I believe, also the 13 a side game.

Insists Stphen: "It has become obvious that this year's Six Nations Championship will be decided through injury. If you count those who would have had a fighting chance of being in the team or the match squad, England are without 13 players, Ireland 10, Wales 11, six first choice forwards included. Scotland are hoping for some late recoveries, but there is doubt about five of their front row forwards. France are missing 11 key individuals." There is no doubt that serious injuries in both codes of rugby do appear to be more prevalent and that the size and strength of many of the players, especially in the forwards, are  far  greater than those of yesteryear - mostly the outcome from regular work on an individual weights programme in the gymnasium. Rugby Union especially, thanks to the constant emphasis on the strength and muscularity of its players at the scrums, the line outs, the mauls, and the rucks. Indeed such is the size of any international RU forward today I confess that when I recently sat alongside the former England captain, Martin Johnson, at a fundraising luncheon on behalf of the Wooden Spoon RU& RL charity I almost believed that if I was playing today I would be a scrum half and not a second row. Likewise when I have spoken with the St.Helens and England RL prop forward, Alex Walmsley, a man of huge proportions and apparent strength.

Yes, today size and strength, and the changes in forward play in both codes, demand huge powerful athletic packs - hence the accompanying increase in the incidence of injuries to players, and especially forwards. In Union we are now accustomed to seeing huge but athletic forwards in possession of the ball, driving at the opposition collectively, or one after another, in an effort to break their opponents' defensive line. In League though limited to six tackles under the rules of play, we still see far too much of the pack in possession and in collision with the opposition forwards in midfield. Oh for the days when ,playing for my then local St.Helens RU club, we had Harry Barton and Wally Moss, two small, stocky, 'wing forwards' racing all over the pitch, tackling anyone, picking up the ball, and setting up play like half backs. Or during my career with St.Helens RL club I could follow our prop John Tembey or loose forward, Vince Karalius, and was guaranteed a short, sharp, defence splitting pass off either.

A big, powerful pack can be an intimidating outfit and can, in both codes but especially in Union, determine the outcome of a match .While the style of play from muscle laden forwards driving down the middle can, sadly, today lead to far more injuries to the players.

Ray French, January 2018