As the rugby world cup moves into its final stages in South Africa over the next ten days, referees should take firm action against those committing violent offences, according to researchers from Liverpool John Moores University.
An examination of the level of violent offences in 30 rugby matches, from 1973 to 1995, has found that rugby players are committing fewer violent offences overall, but those they do commit are getting more and more dangerous. The researchers found a decline in "punching", "late/high tackles", "obstruction" and "butting" - but an increase in "foot strike", or stamping on a player on the ground, a particularly dangerous offence.
Senior lecturer Benny Peiser and sport science student David Glaves also found that almost 80 per cent of all violent offences analysed went unpunished, and argue that referees should be firmer. "Referees are tempted to keep the game fluid, but by turning a blind eye to offences, they are tempting players to commit them," said Dr Peiser.
The two researchers analysed offences from internationals, previous world cups and domestic matches.
The results showed that the average number of violent offences decreased from 26.8 per cent per match before 1990 to 14.8 per cent after 1990, but that there was a proportionate increase in the most severe offences.
David Glaves argued: "Players are increasingly more powerful and athletic, resulting in a faster game. Recently this has contributed to several incidents of players receiving particularly horrific injuries.
"Because of these incidents there is a growing belief that the overall level of violence in rugby has drastically increased, although the opposite is true."
The study makes a number of recommendations on how to reduce the number of stamping incidents, and has submitted these to rugby's governing bodies.