Applied sports science research from the University of Bath that has gone on to make rugby safer for the nine million players around the world is included in a list of ‘most significant’ university breakthroughs compiled by Universities UK.
The ‘Best Breakthroughs’ list has been launched to celebrate inventions, discoveries and social initiatives from UK universities which have had a transformational impact on everyday lives.
“Advances to improve player safety in rugby owe much to the research that takes place in UK universities, none more so than that at the University of Bath,” said England Rugby forwards coach and University of Bath alumni Steve Borthwick.
“In partnership with England Rugby and World Rugby, the impact of their work to improve player safety both in relation to the scrum and for youth and community rugby will be felt by players from around the world for years to come.”
'Crouch, bind, set'
From 2010-13, researchers from University of Bath’s Department for Health led by Professor Keith Stokes and Dr Grant Trewartha worked with the International Rugby Board (now World Rugby) and England Rugby to analyse and assess the forces experienced by front row forwards in the scrum.
While not common, scrum-related injuries made up around 40% of the catastrophic injuries for players. As a result the focus of the ‘Biomechanics of the Rugby Scrum’ project was to reduce the forces, but to do so with minimal effect on the scrum’s competitive nature.
Working with teams and governing bodies, University of Bath developed the pre-binding scrum technique, now known as ‘crouch, bind, set’, whereby front row players bind to the opposition before pushing. This has a significant impact in reducing the forces of engagement by 25%.
'A seminal moment'
Trialled by the IRB in May 2013, alongside a suite of five other aspects of law on player welfare, it was subsequently rolled out globally and can now be seen at every rugby match around the world at all levels.
Described as a ‘seminal moment’ in the development of the sport by Chairman of the IRB Rugby Committee John Jeffrey, ‘crouch, bind, set’ has featured in the Rugby World Cup, the Six Nations and Rugby Championship. Its long-term impact will be felt for years to come and is hugely significant.
Building on this work, the team was also central to efforts to enhance player safety through the development of a new injury prevention programme which can be applied specifically for youth and adult community rugby.
As part of England Rugby’s RugbySafe programme, we studied injury risk, including concussions, from data of over 2,500 young players and 2,000 adults to demonstrate the dramatic effects a new warm-up programme could bring.
Known as ‘Activate’, the 20-minute pre-activation warm-up routine, which Bath researchers developed, is split into four stages. These focus on balance, strength and agility in order to better prepare players for the physical challenges experienced in the game. The results observed were dramatic.
Findings from the adult community project highlight that concussion injuries could be reduced by up to 60% and lower-limb injuries reduced by up to 40% as a result of players performing the new routine. For youth rugby players aged 14-18, there were equally impressive results, with overall injuries down by 72% and concussions reduced by 59% in those teams that completed the exercises three times per week.
The season-long intervention, which is practised by players both in training and before matches, has since been rolled out across the country by England Rugby and will now be introduced internationally by World Rugby. The work was also recognised by the Medical Journalists Association earlier this year.
The research team is now working to ensure that Activate is adopted by as many coaches as possible. This complements other projects with potential for significant impact, including a trial in the Championship Cup of a lowered tackle height to reduce head-to-head contact for players.