Objective: To determine the frequency and nature of injuries sustained by the 416 players from 16 countries participating in the 1995 Rugby World Cup played in South Africa in May/June 1995.
Methods: The study was a prospective analysis of all injuries requiring medical attention during that competition. Data were collected by the match doctors on duty at each of the venues at which the matches were played. Data were collated and analysed.
Results: There were 48 preliminary and 7 final-round matches. Of a total of 70 injuries during the tournament, 58 occurred during the preliminary matches (frequency 30 injuries per 1000 player hours); the frequency was somewhat higher during the 7 final-round matches (43 injuries per 1000 player hours). Overall injury frequency was 1 injury every 0.8 matches during the preliminary and 1 every 0.6 matches during the final-round matches. Thirty per cent of injuries were to ligaments, 27% were lacerations and 14% were muscle strains. The lower limb accounted for 42% of all injuries, the upper limb for 29% and the face for 17%. Fifty-six per cent of injuries occurred during the tackle phase of play, 23% during the ruck and maul, 11% during open play and 9% during foul play. The scrum and line-out together contributed only 1% of all injuries. Loose forwards suffered 25% of all injuries; centres and wings 20%; prop forwards and half-backs 16% each; locks 14%; hookers 7% and fullbacks 3%. One player suffered a paralysing spinal cord injury during a preliminary match. The incidence of catastrophic neck injuries in the tournament was therefore 4.6 per 10,000 player hours.
Conclusions: The frequency of injury in this competition is the highest yet recorded in any group of rugby players. The risk of rugby injury is therefore greatest in the best players in the game, challenging the view that superior fitness, skill and experience can reduce the risk of rugby injury. In contrast, the larger size, greater speed and superior competitiveness and commitment of the best rugby players in the world would explain why they are at the highest risk of injury. The high frequency of injury in international rugby has implications for: (i) the frequency with which such matches should be played; and (ii) the number of players needed to complete a season of international rugby.