I wonder about schools rugby.


As I wondered around my old school – Bryanston – I felt nostalgia for the late 70s (when I was a pupil), wonder for the educational business I was being shown and fright at the conclusions I was drawing with regards school sport – especially rugby.

Rugby is , and always has been, the showcase for a public school’s prowess. An unbeaten rugby team can be  as important as culture or academic record (especially to us Dads).

Last year Bryanston diagnosed 54 children as having had a concussion while at school of whom 90% were injured playing rugby. As the stock of rugby players is only 170, this suggests that getting on for 30% of boys will be concussed every year. As it takes three weeks to go through the testing and rehabilitation from concussion, this seems an unsustainable situation.

At the lecture on head injuries I attended someone asked how these figures compared, there are no comparisons, until recently no-one kept records, most concussions were un-reported and many untreated.

It is entirely right that the school is leading the way – it has a full time sports physio and is not shy of reporting the facts to parents. I noticed a lot of women in the lecture I attended and spoke to a few after, they shared my feelings.

I played two years in the first fifteen back in the 70s, lost one match and were considered stars, today’s team is not so successful, one coach I spoke to suggested this may be linked to a style of rugby it is playing which attempts to reduce the level of hard contact that leads to concussion.

I am pleased to hear that the school is considering offering football as an alternative to rugby for boys who prefer it, I have seen how this works in other schools, while it is likely to reduce the competitiveness of the school rugby team, I suspect many boys (like my son) would opt for football – not least to play a full season of sport.

I was tempted looking back at my time , to consider today’s children over-protected. But I have a cousin who is a paraplegic from rugby related injuries and we will never know how many of my generation suffer from lack of diagnosis of trauma from head damage.

Bryanston 4

Malcom and Sally Green


Part of the recuperation from concussion is at least three days when the child cannot look at LCD screens, I imagine this will be a greater trauma to the child than the concussion itself! Speaking to my old coach – Malcolm Green – he reminded me that in my five years at the school, I did not miss one match through injury.

We had a serious conversation as to whether this was a matter of personal resilience, mis-diagnosis or due to the nature of the rugby being played now and then.

I don’t know the answer to that question, but for those of us lucky enough to reunite after nearly 40 years, the camaraderie of the years we played remains. Rugby is an extraordinary game to play, I have never enjoyed a team-sport more.

I hope that the efforts of schools like Bryanston will help shape school sport to ensure that rugby does not become a menace but continues to give the pleasure it gave to me , Malcolm and this lot.



And then again, there’s always rowing!

Bryanston Buffaloes.jpg

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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4 Responses to I wonder about schools rugby.

  1. Jeremy Hewlett says:

    Henry you were an outstanding player, brave to the point of stupidity (which juxtaposed with your scholastic success) and you were fortunate to play alongside some awsome rugy talent…Tozer, Trick,Cox, Prosser and basically everyone else in the late 70’s XV. Perhaps one difference between then and now is that I don’t recall anyone going to the gym – the pub certainly, but not the gym!

  2. Peter Beattie says:

    Yes always considered as the ‘nasty rough game’ for the more civilized of us! Sport should be to improve the well-being by physical activity not necessarily ‘competitive’ in nature! This movement into over competitiveness is all part of the unfortunate way parents think they need someone else to tell them which are ‘the best schools’. This has lead to the flawed ‘educational league tables’ of schools that have appeared in recent decades. All part of the unfortunate ‘nanny society’! Choice is far more important than competition.

  3. Dr Robin Rowles says:

    Interesting, Henry. I am not aware that there were any head injuries due to playing rugby, at the the Grammar School I attended, over the 6 years I was there. But that was the late 50s to mid 60s, so maybe we weren’t playing it right!

  4. henry tapper says:

    Either you played the game in a less dangerous way- or people didn’t know that they’d been injured in the head, I expect a combination of the two!

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