Tackling the problem of rugby and brain injuries

<span>Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

I think the Ireland rugby union captain and head coach, Johnny Sexton and Andy Farrell, have a valid point about lowering the tackle height to the waist, a variable anatomical landmark (Johnny Sexton criticises RFU for lowering tackle height for amateurs, 23 January).

My experience includes playing amateur schools rugby at a high level in Ireland and being the doctor for Launceston Rugby Club and Cornwall RFU. (This included time when Launceston were at a high level, playing professional teams.) I have seen the game get faster, more physical, and sometimes indisciplined. As a doctor, I am most concerned about the risks of long-term neurological damage. As a spectator, I love to see good, open rugby.

Having studied and taught anatomy, could I suggest a better option: all rugby shirts should have a clear horizontal line at the level of the junction between the upper, backward angled section of the breastbone (the sternum) and the lower, long part. Then every player, from child to veteran, could see that line and tackle below it. This would give more clarity to match officials. I believe this would reduce head and neck injuries.
Dr Danny Lang
Deal, Kent

• I have followed the debate about rugby tackling height rules with interest (RFU’s Bill Sweeney facing calls to resign over tackle height rule-change debacle, 27 January).

At my boys’ secondary school in 1960s Middlesbrough, our one hour per week PE lesson used to alternate between football and rugby. The first 15 minutes of the latter was tackling practice, and involved one of us – selected randomly – standing side-on at the end of the gym while, one at a time, the other 30 would charge from the other end and launch themselves horizontally to hit you in the middle of the thigh with their shoulder.

Any tackle higher or lower was called as a foul. It was easy to spot who had been the tackle “target” the next day, as they always had an angry bruise visible under their shorts. Not surprisingly, we all preferred football weeks.
Andrew Keeley
Warrington, Cheshire

• With reference to the RFU’s decision to lower the legal tackle height at amateur level, in the 1930s, when WH Auden wrote the school song for Raynes Park county grammar, he recognised in verse three that tackling high was unmanly, which remained the case for many years: “Man has mind but body also; / So we learn to tackle low / Bowl the off-breaks, hit the sixes, / Bend the diver’s brilliant bow.” When did it become unfashionable to be taught otherwise?
Michael Burns
New Malden, London

• Thank you for your reporting on the growing concern about brain injuries affecting rugby players (Amateur players launch lawsuit against rugby authorities over brain injuries, 19 January). As a spectator of international and club rugby, I feel increasingly conflicted that the entertainment that I have enjoyed watching in the stands and on TV may have contributed to players developing neurodegenerative diseases.

Injuries are part of a contact sport like rugby, but brain injuries that lead to young men and women not being able to live normal lives after retirement from the sport are not acceptable. Short of boycotting the game altogether, what should supporters do to put pressure on rugby authorities to make it safer?
Ian Coltart
Thoiry, France