Millfield lead RugbySafe festival to improve safety in the school game

Millfield hosted seven schools and more than 180 students for a RugbySafe Festival aimed at gathering research to reduce head injuries in school rugby. 

The festival was launched in conjunction with the Rugby Football Union and RugbySafe, the RFU’s overarching player safety and wellbeing programme, which seeks to ensure that rugby is played in a safe and enjoyable environment. 

Millfield were one of eight schools to take part, alongside U16s from Exeter School, King’s Taunton, Canford School, Taunton School, Clifton College, Blundell’s School and Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Bristol. 

The safety of rugby and numbers playing in schools has been scrutinised in the media in recent months. The numbers of boys choosing to play rugby at Millfield is at a five year high, with 250 across four year groups. Demand for the girls’ game is also growing steadily, with almost 30 girls now regularly training twice a week at Millfield.  

During the 2021-2022 season, the RFU lowered the tackle height in age grade rugby from the shoulder level to the line of the armpit. They also announced plans to evaluate a height tackle law variation and to restrict late dipping and leading into contact by the ball carrier. The aim being to explore what more can be done to reduce high tackles and head impacts in the age grade game. 

The festival at Millfield was the first stage in the evaluation. All games throughout the day were refereed by RFU officials and filmed to allow for data collection on injuries. Two of the teams taking part wore instrumented mouthguards, which have the potential to quantify head acceleration events in sport. A detailed analysis of the data and footage collected at the event is now underway. 

Millfield Director of Rugby, John Mallett, said “In collaboration with the Rugby Development department at England Rugby, we here at Millfield, alongside seven other schools from the South West, wanted to engage in a tackle height law evaluation at the start of the 2022/23 season. The aim is to ensure best practice amongst all stakeholders - players, coaches and referees - in supporting the ongoing pursuit of a safe game. We are backing an evidence-based approach to potential improvements in the tackle height laws as well as continuing the application of Activate warm ups (the RFU’s injury prevention exercise programme), coach education and Headcase qualifications for staff, which are part of one of the leading concussion awareness and education programmes in the UK.” 

John Lawn, Head of Game Development at the RFU, said “We were very excited to get the evaluation underway. Millfield were fantastic hosts and along with the other schools taking part they have been massively supportive of the work we are doing to make the game as safe and enjoyable as possible, whilst retaining the contact aspect of our great game that makes it so unique and exciting. The players responded really well to the changes. Matches were played at a very high tempo with great physicality and high skill levels.” 

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