Rugby death was not the first

November 1, 1996

Ian Tucker, the Oxford University rugby player who died this week after being injured during a game, is not the first top-class student player to have been killed in this way.

Charles McIvor, who was capped seven times for Ireland before the first world war, died in 1913 after being kicked in a practice game at Trinity College, Dublin.

Rugby researcher John Jenkins, formerly a librarian at the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, estimates that around 15 first-class players have died during or shortly after games this century. The last one before Ian Tucker was West Hartlepool lock forward John Howe, who had a heart attack during a game in 1992.

Ian Tucker's death, like that of McIvor, illustrates both the dangers involved in rugby union and the great difficulties involved in making it safer.

The dangers are illustrated by Sports Council research from 1991 which found that rugby is three times more likely to inflict serious injuries than soccer, cricket, hockey and the martial arts, the next most risky popular activities.

The survey did not include boxing or skiing and only a minuscule proportion of the sample related to American football, all sports with very high injury rates.

While other sports run by the British University Sports Association are covered by a collective insurance scheme costing Pounds 1 per participant, rugby union clubs are required to take out the special Rugby Football Union scheme which works out at Pounds 7 per player.

As one of the fastest-growing women's sports, with 6,500 players of both sexes, rugby union has more participants at university team level than any other sport.

The BUSA requires that qualified medical help should be available at all games. The Saracens v Oxford University game in which Ian Tucker was injured was not a BUSA fixture but was covered by the even more stringent requirements of first-class rugby.

The BUSA has also adopted the RFU rule forbidding full-contact scrummaging if either side is unable to field competent front-row forwards. This is meant to stop collapsed scrummages, which carry the risk of spinal injuries.

Like Max Brito, the Ivory Coast winger paralysed during a World Cup match against Tonga last year, Ian Tucker was making an apparently routine tackle.

There is concern where players are insufficiently physically mature to face adult opposition, or lack the technical skill. But as a 23-year-old who had represented Australia at under-19 level and was seen as a possible future full international, Ian Tucker fell into neither class.

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