College of Medicine & Veterinary Medicine

Youth rugby safety plea

Youth players should be barred from the front row of rugby scrums in men’s matches unless they meet medical guidelines.

Experts say that playing 17 year olds in the front row in senior rugby matches is unsafe if they do not have the neck strength needed to withstand the force of a scrum.

Researchers propose that youth players undergo tests to demonstrate that they have the same neck strength as their adult counterparts before being approved to play adult rugby.

Despite looking as physically strong and being as technically able as adult players, this is often not the case.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, also found that scrums are responsible for a significant proportion of spinal injuries.


The study is part of an initiative involving the SRU to reduce the injury risk to school-age children playing rugby in Scotland.

The work carried out by Scottish Rugby / Scottish Committee for Orthopaedics and Trauma (SCOT) group has already changed the way youth rugby is played in Scotland.

It has also led to serious injury rates falling since its guidelines have been adopted.

The Scottish Rugby (SRU) has implemented the study's recommendations in the past rugby season.

Our results showed that although under-18 players were as strong as the adults in general they were unable to generate the same neck muscle force as adult players. It is likely that weak necks are a risk factor for the scrum collapsing – an event associated with serious neck injury risk. To ensure the safety of all six front row players, it is essential that they are all strong enough to compete safely.
Professor Hamish SimpsonProfessor of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Edinburgh and Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

Strength tests

Researchers tested the physical strength of adult players from amateur leagues and high performance under-18 front row players - looking at the players’ neck strength and fatigue endurance.

They found that the under-18 players’ reduced strength and fatigue endurance put them at a significant disadvantage.

In the test group of high performance under-18 group players, only two out of 30 players recorded the average neck strength of the adult group.
Dr David HamiltonRresearch fellow at the University's Department of Trauma and Orthopaedics