Playing through the Pain: A Rugby How-To

As sports like soccer and basketball move to remove diving and flopping from their game, rugby remains as far as ever from fake injuries and simulation.

As a New Zealander, the Rugby World Cup kicking off in Japan this week marks the culmination of four years of anticipation and excitement. I woke up at 6:45am on a Saturday morning to watch the mighty All Blacks take down South Africa 23-13 in their opening game, but more than just tries caught my eye.

Around the 60th minute, Beauden Barrett, regarded by most to be the best player in the world, dived into a tackle. In the middle of bringing his man to the ground, he was hit in the face by a flailing boot not once but three times, rendering his nose a stream of blood. The medic grabbed a towel, held it on his face for 10 seconds, and dismissed him; Barrett, still bleeding, returned to play. Ten minutes before, another player had been seen being thoroughly upset that a confirmed concussion had forced his exit from the game. He had a confirmed head injury, and was disappointed to be removed.

This isn’t football (soccer), where a stiff breeze seems to blow even the most physically adept players straight to the ground. This is the complete opposite; nobody wants to be removed due to injury, nobody wants to show weakness. What type of message does that send?

Forward Neymar of Brazil was criticized heavily and accused of diving and faking an injury in a World Cup match on Monday against Mexico.
Neymar Writhes in ‘Agony’ (Source: Saeed Khan / Getty Images)

Madrigal and colleagues attribute this absolute resolution to play through the pain in rugby to the sport ethic. This dictates that injuries are given in every sport, and in playing the sport you are accepting that risk. As the risk is inherent, injuries themselves are normalized and minimized. The team is seen as the ultimate prize, and giving your all to it is valued above all else. Interestingly enough though, Madrigal et. al’s research did show that, at least at the collegiate level of rugby, this mentality is equivalent between female and male codes – despite the masculinization of the concept that is ignoring pain and suffering.

Be it a little bump or a broken finger, players never want to leave the field. They don’t want to abandon their team, be seen as weak, and it makes for great watching from the spectator’s perspective. One can’t help but wonder the damage this mentality does though, and ponder over a happy medium between the flailing arms of football, to the broken bones of rugby.


Featured image: Beauden Barrett celebrates a try. (Marty Melville / AFP Photo. )

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