Leeds Rhinos: Banning tackling at junior level is a knee-jerk reaction – Ablett

Liam Sutcliffe.
Liam Sutcliffe.
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I GOT quite angry when I learned about calls for tackling to be banned in schools rugby.

You probably read or heard about this, but in case you haven’t a group of 70 doctors and health professionals want schools to play non-contact rugby, because they say the risk of injury – mainly concussions and fractures – is too high.

I’ve got nothing against tag or touch rugby as a way of introducing people to the game.

If people want to play that form of the sport that’s fine, but the way to develop future players is by playing contact.

I don’t know exactly who these doctors are or what experience they have of junior rugby.

But I wonder if they have ever been to a club or school and looked at the coaching and how the game operates.

I played as a schoolboy and I have coached in Rhinos’ scholarship, so I think I am in a good position to comment.

For anyone to say ‘it is too dangerous, ban it’ is absolutely wrong and I think it paints the wrong picture about rugby for children.

Parents reading those doctors’ comments aren’t likely to be rushing to the nearest club to get their kids signed up.

Obviously injuries occur in any form of rugby – I’m on the casualty list as I write this – but the benefits of youngsters playing rugby far outweigh the negatives.

Rugby is about being part of a team. It teaches team work, discipline and respect, things which kids don’t learn by playing video games or sitting in front of the TV.

I am not saying more can’t be done. Kids come in all shapes and sizes and develop at different rates.

In every team there’s always one kid who is twice the size of everyone else and when he gets the ball he runs through the opposition with players hanging on to his ankles.

I was a small, skinny kid so I know what it’s like trying to stop someone like that.

For the first five or six years I played I used to stand on the wing and never saw much of the ball, but I enjoyed tackling around the legs. Maybe there’s a case for grouping players by size, rather than age. I think that could work from the ages of about six to 12. This is slightly off the topic, but I think there’s too much emphasis placed on athleticism at youth level and not enough on skills.

One of the differences between Super League and the NRL is the number of footballers they have over in Australia.

I think we need to encourage kids to work more on their skills, because the game is not just all about size. There aren’t enough good young halves about. We have a couple at Leeds, but Sutty (Liam Sutcliffe) isn’t a natural six or seven, he is a ball-playing runner.

Anyway, back to junior rugby and it is good that more youngsters are wearing head guards and that sort of thing.

That’s a far better option than banning contact. You can make the game safer, without stopping it becoming rugby as we know it.

On a related subject, I took part in the launch of Leeds Rhinos Foundation’s Respect campaign, which I think is a great initiative.

Playing rugby league at junior level should be all about having fun, but some parents can be too pushy.

As you go through the age groups the language can get quite fruity and it stops being about the kids and their enjoyment. Kids don’t want to play in an environment that’s hostile or intimidating and we want to get the message across that is is the kids who matter.

People have got a duty, if they are parents or just spectating, to respect the players on both teams and to make sure they can go out and enjoy the game.

It’s a minority who don’t, but unfortunately they can spoil it for the rest.

This is something I feel strongly about and I hope the message gets across.

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