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Rugby – ahead of the game? – 8 October 2015 – Ballard School – Headmaster’s Blog

October 8, 2015

We recently had a visit to school from Jonah Lomu, the legendary New Zealand All Black rugby union star. I have written

Alastair Reid Headmaster Ballard School New Milton Hampshire

Alastair Reid
Headmaster Ballard School New Milton Hampshire

elsewhere about the inspirational talk he gave at school. His visit, and the concurrent Rugby World Cup, has also served to remind us all about the importance of the laws of rugby union, not last where health and safety are concerned.

Possible head injuries in sports such as rugby has been much in the news owing to the World Cup and the much-publicised injuries sustained by some top players such as Irishman Brian O’Driscoll. Recently there was an investigative TV programme undertaken by former Scottish rugby cap, Jonny Beattie (now with BBC Scotland), who looked at the possible long-term effects of head injuries in the game. (Having been privileged to play rugby with Jonny at Prep School in Scotland where he was a magnificent centre and I was a more lowly second row made what he had to say all the more poignant.) Amongst much else, Jonny Beattie looked at recent rule changes to American Football and how these have seemingly led to a reduction in head injuries.

Here at Ballard we are very keen to follow the England RFU ‘rules of play and player progression’ initiative to ensure that the game is coached and played as safely and carefully as possible. It was, thus, very interesting to be contacted by a reporter from The Economist for our views on head injuries in schoolboy rugby and this in itself was a result of an initiative from the Independent Schools Association (ISA) sports’ coordinator. It is worth reporting our reply to the journalist in full:

As a PE department we have discussed the email from Richard Stedeford from ISA Sport HQ. Here is our statement:

Ballard implicitly follows the guidelines set by the RFU for school rugby. We continually update staff through internal and external CPD and have supportive material from the RFU via the internet (

Our rugby continuum follows the New Rules of Play and Player Progression Pathway for 2015/16 This starts at under 7 with handling skills, which builds into formalised matches of tag-rugby as Under 8s. The under 8s are introduced to contact drills that are extremely low risk in lessons. These are confidence-building games, strengthening drills with body awareness emphasises.

As under 9s, pupils are taught to tackle in the correct way with a focus on head position and how to stay safe when tackling and being tackled. There are no mauls or rucks. As the pupils gain in confidence, they are able access more of the contact elements involved in the game. The key point is that good teaching and constant and high quality CPD ensures pupils are always as safe as possible. It is our experience that poor teaching, direction and refereeing has contributed to injuries on the pitches in the past.

Pupils approach contact work in a non-confrontational way and contact is taught to be fun, disciplined and controlled at all times.

We continue to enjoy our rugby at Ballard School – the popularity of breakfast club sessions every week testifies to this – but do so responsibly with a firm eye on safety.

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