When the South African squad for the 2023 Rugby World Cup (RWC) was announced, key players Lukhanyo Am, Handre Pollard and Lood de Jager were missing from the list due to injury.

Thankfully, Am and Pollard were later able to join the squad and contribute to the Boks’ triumph, but whether you’re an elite athlete, schoolboy player, or weekend touch rugby player, injuries are an inevitable part of the sport. 

“If you play rugby you’re going to get sore,” says Dr Konrad von Hagen, a GP and sports doctor. And he should know: He was the official team doctor to the 2019 RWC-winning Springboks, and has seen patients and injuries of all sizes and severities through his career.

Concussion risks in rugby

Rugby is a high-impact sport that can lead to serious injuries if players, coaches, and parents are unaware of the risks. “We as sports doctors emphasise the issue of concussion – especially on the prevention side,” says Dr Von Hagen. “We do a lot of education to help people understand what concussion is, and teaching players, coaches and parents that you don’t have to lose consciousness to have a concussion. I do talks at schools explaining this, and educating the staff who work with schoolboy rugby players about the process of getting them safely back into the sport. If you bring them back too quickly and they get a second concussion, that could be disastrous.”

Injury prevention through training

Concussion – as with many other rugby-related injuries – can be prevented through appropriate training, says Dr Von Hagen. “On the training field, it’s about teaching the correct tackle techniques. Players need to learn to keep their head in the right place, and out of the wrong places! If possible, neck-strengthening exercises during preseason also go a long way to helping.”

Dr Von Hagen points to training as the best prevention for all the other bumps, bruises and broken bones too:

  • Keep your body strong and flexible, which helps in other contact/impact events too
  • Always do the appropriate warm-up and cool-down stretches before and after games to reduce the risk of muscular injuries
  • Learn how to tackle and be tackled, and how best to go to ground and protect your body.

All these will go a long way to ensuring you stay safe, in the game, and injury-free.