Big Collisions and Fireworks in Bledisloe Cup Test a Factor of Game

Australia v New Zealand

When the dust settled, it was a tough, physical win for the Wallabies. A deserved one, where they were able to overcome a disjointed All Blacks team, in this third Bledisloe Cup Test on Saturday.

From the evidence, the ‘big collisions and fireworks’ on the field were clear to see. Both sides leaders bore the scars and wounds (see below image). Blood flowed tonight for Kieran Read, with an head concussion injury to Kane Hames, plus an awkward collision to Rob Simmons that resulted in him being stretchered off the field.

Some huge tackles–as you might expect–all point to a tougher game to play. All elements reinforcing the factor in the modern game; the collisions are getting bigger, and harder in Tests but also in domestic rugby for men and women.

Big Collisions and Fireworks in Bledisloe Cup Test a Factor in Modern Game

The outcome was not as a result of big tackles, the Wallabies winning 23-18 after a sustained game plan. The ‘big hits’ were shared between each side, but the occurrence and ferocity of them is something that World Rugby has highlighted.

The tackle area is no doubt, more intense today. All contact sports are, with ball sports and in particular, rugby union, a glaring signal of the intensity. When asked, departing All Blacks assistant coach Wayne Smith said that it had become a huge area of the game.

“The Game has changed totally. Bigger athletes, faster athletes.”

“More specialist coaching now with that. I’ve had to learn more about the bio-mechanics involved, and it is certainly complex. The power generated through hits is massive! But, it is a physical area where teams can get an advantage”.

And from that point of contact, the concern for both players by stakeholders and medical staff is ‘how much bigger it might become?’

Heavier Players, Heavier Hits

In a game where inches mean points, body positions can result in severe injury–see Rob Simmons, who found himself in a compromised position [as an innocent party]. And while he was wearing protective headgear, how effective that was is difficult to judge. His head collided with a team mate, and he dropped like a sack of spuds.

The game was halted, while he received treatment. Fortunately, after initial scans his health was judged, while he went for scans in a local hospital. And Kane Hames too; who left for an HIA concussion test, was given the all clear.

But over the game, the power of the tackles in general, was clear to players and coaches. Winning coach Michael Cheika made reference to those areas of the game. “I would prefer that our 90 kilogram backs run down those inside channels,” referring to tackles on players like Bernard Foley, Will Genia and Kurtley Beale.

In one frequently broadcast moment, Foley is skittled by All Blacks prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Big man on little man is never a good thing, but in rugby it can account for both the highlights reel….plus, many injuries and damage to players long term health.

Note: many players have had to end their careers early, to protect themselves from long term exposure; including James Broadhurst.

Fans Enjoy That Part of the Game: Boomfah!!

It is human nature, to enjoy the big collisions and fireworks. Some will say that the primal instinctive part of the brain, is attracted to the challenge. It is a modern contest, that has evolved through all civilization. In sporting battles, and today it is enjoyed in a way; not unlike the Coliseum, or contact sports like rugby.

So when the biggest games come around–the Bledisloe Cup Test match especially, or State of Origin as another–it results in many collision-points. Those generate as much interest [see below] as it does conversation over the winning and losing of the contest.

A popular colloquialism recently, is the term Boomfah! A commentary phrase used widely by SkySport host, and former All Black, Justin Marshall. He commonly uses the term as an adjective. He describes the point of contact, and whenever those ‘huge tackles’ are made, Marshall emphasizes the moment.

“Boomfah! He got flattened.”

But in the entirety of this topic matter, is the encouragement of the practice to be popularized? Envied as the single moment to enjoy most? Difficult to judge; however much as a rugby fan it brings a smile, there is a duty of responsibility that a big tackle is directed effectively. Coaches like Smith and in rugby league and other contact sports, ensure men and women affect a tackle from the chestline and below.

Reckless and accidental tackles: 2016 ruling made to protect player welfare, with penalties for players on-field, and increased awareness.

At times though, it appears to be promoted by broadcasters. State of Origin is commonly showing the hits, as marketing the ‘mate against mate’ mantra. Even while it is a traditional element of that contest, the big collisions and fireworks taking place during the Bledisloe Cup Test were usually unforeseen by either runner or tackler.

Some were enough to keep the tackled player down for a number of seconds. They must get hurt, and it should not be encouraged by either team–to the detriment of the sport. In New Zealand, ACC Sportsmart programs and others around the game globally, are looking to limited and reduce the focus on ‘big hits’.

But, can it go too far? How ‘hard’ does the hit have to be to generate the reaction? And then, as a result of any tackle, many see that volume of the reaction from the crowd/audience, that can be a measure of the physicality.

However, is that healthy for the athletes involved? Trained to go in faster, hit harder, and then as a result–possibly get hurt a little bit more. There is a ‘risk and reward’ element to it that must be of concern to head coaches, specialist defence coaches like Smith, and players like Kieran Read (below, far right).

Even the All Blacks and Wallabies organizations will admit, it is of concern. They have to consider (a) the health of the players, and (b) the process of general play tackles , and especially the ‘cleaning out’ practice at the ruck area.

How to do both? How to have both? (Safely)

The aggressive nature of the game is primordial. But in rugby union, awareness of player welfare is now critical. This is the challenge facing the game, and one that fan and player must influence equally.

Calling out for the bit hit is less popular. And commentators; as innocently as it appears, should respect that factor. When players do suffer from injury, gladly there is a traditional moment where fans hold there breath. If the player stands back up, it is ‘game on’. But when they are receiving medical treatment more today, the game is halted.

From domestic rugby to International games like the Bledisloe Cup Test, World Rugby dictates that officials now step in. Immediate immobilization of the player’s neck now occurs on all occasions–which is a beneficial act. Long term treatment may clear any risk injury [like Simmons below], but a ‘log roll’ or simply sitting up, is definitely not encouraged.

Rob Simmons of the Wallabies is assisted by medical staff during the Bledisloe Cup test match, October 21, 2017. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

And front-on tackling is also not recommended, but in any contacts sports you have a risk element. Hames was taken off for precaution–as Beauden Barrett’s non-selection was also, to be cautious of lingering symptoms. Nobody wants to send a player back on, so sideline HIA checks are a mandatory. Advantages available now, in comparison to years past.

So while concern and welfare has improved, the big hits and collisions will only get bigger, as players too get bigger. So the duty of care is bilateral: between players who must beware of the consequences, and coaches who must train and manage players actions.

It might get the big reaction, the ‘Boomfah’ call and hit the highlight reels, but as an observer, I believe the limit is near to being reached. And I am glad my seat is in the stands, and not running into the opposition.


Also read about new HIA diagnosis testing in the UK Professional rugby competitions.

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