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Tuesday 17 October 2017

Tackle vital part of the game

'The game would cease to exist' - Schools united in opposition to medical proposal

James McKeown of Belvedere College breaks away to score his third try of the game during yesterday’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final at Donnybrook Photo: Sportsfile
James McKeown of Belvedere College breaks away to score his third try of the game during yesterday’s Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final at Donnybrook Photo: Sportsfile

The second Leinster Schools Senior Cup semi-final took place in a cauldron at Donnybrook yesterday.

The press box there can be a cold place when the wind whips in and the ears can bleed from the relentless teenage chants that reach up to a never-ending crescendo.

It was a frenzied atmosphere in which the tackles were greeted as loudly as the tries in a test of calm and character as the boys from Belvedere and St Michael's put their bodies on the line.

For all of the comedy and class ridicule milked out of this competition, it would do a man, woman or child good to get down to see what this part of the game is all about.

The 'Open Letter' which landed into government offices recently would have the tackle taken out of the game at this level and, in one radical move, wipe out a tradition in Irish rugby.

Monitoring

Instead of moving for continued education and progressive medical monitoring of the game, the call has come in to scrap it. No discussion No debate.

This just seems wrong, on many different levels.

"Any risk placed in front of the boys is far outweighed by the benefits," said St Michael's head coach Andy Skehan, before falling 36-22 to Belvedere in another classic schools rugby encounter from what is a stellar season.

"By benefits, I mean the positive mental health, learning to work as a team, positive physical health, understanding of nutrition, how the body works, the bio-mechanics of it.

"It is about working as a team, totally together in a physical game and enjoying the company of your opponent after it, based on that physical contest.

"All these things are essential to rugby," he stated.

The removal of the tackle from all levels of schools rugby would deeply impact on the careful, gradual introduction to the game from as early as the age of eight.

"It would be a different sport," continued Skehan.

"The 'tagline' is the tackle. But what we're really talking about is removing any form of contact from rugby and part of the value of the game is the physical contact."

Kilkenny College Rugby Administrator Tony Duncan understands the need to care for the game and the people playing it.

"I can see where the medical profession is coming from," he said.

"The difficulty comes if you don't teach the fundamentals of the game to kids in a safe environment within school.

"You say 'no tackling in rugby.' Fine. They go and play touch rugby. Then, they go into adult rugby and they don't know how to tackle.

"That, to me, is a recipe for greater injury risk in the long-term because you're trying to teach adults who never learned when they were younger.

"You are going to propel people from a 'no tackle' environment into adult rugby, where there is tackling.

"That is like throwing a person who has never been taught to swim into a swimming pool."

Unrecognisable

Matt Jarvis is the Head of Rugby at the King's Hospital.

He holds tight to the opinion that the removal of the tackle would take so much away from the game as to make it unrecognisable.

"It wouldn't really be rugby as we know it," he said.

"Part of the whole aspect of rugby is the physicality of it, the evasion and the tackle.

"It would completely change to something else, which isn't the game we love."

Belvedere, meanwhile, will now meet Roscrea in a repeat of the 2015 decider after a 36-22 win over St Michael's.

In the end it took a couple of opportunist tries, with Michael's chasing the game, to seal the deal.

James McKeown was the try-scoring hero for Belvo, with a hat-trick, after a cracking contest.

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