Tackling rugby risks must go the extra yard
FORMER Wallaby prop Fletcher Dyson remembers his neck dislocating in slow motion ... chin pressed against his chest, a whack, four or five cracks and lying on the turf at training.
He had pins and needles in one arm, numbness in the other, and he still recalls his doctor's words with absolute clarity: "You shouldn't be walking."
It is breaking his heart to see what four GPS schoolboy rugby players and their families have been going through with traumatic neck injuries over the past five weeks.
Beyond the sidelines at the nine GPS schools there is emotion, debate on reasonable risks, anxious rugby mums and anger at whether rugby is safe enough.
The next few days will be filled with words about all Rugby Australia is doing with safety measures so man-child footballers of 100kg play up an age level, scrum scrutiny and the policing of high tackles.
The GPS schools will talk of all the resources and medical back-up that surrounds every game to make it safe.
It's all true but Dyson, 45, says something extra can be done to make it safer for the thousands of junior rugby players.
"I'd be in a wheelchair but for the muscle bulk around my neck," said Dyson, whose 49-game career for Queensland was abruptly ended by his 2004 accident at Reds training.
"It won't be the popular thing to say but there is sometimes too much 'curls for girls' to look good from weights training rather than simply making necks stronger."
Dyson is talking about mandatory neck stretches and stability exercises, wrestling warm-ups, building the muscles around the neck.
Dyson visited young Toowoomba Grammar rugby teen Ollie Bierhoff in Princess Alexandra Hospital recently to offer him support in his recovery from a spinal injury.
"I've almost shed tears over the past month because this breaks my heart to see boys in this situation," Dyson said.
Dyson, an assistant coach with the Brisbane State High First XV, is delighted that Bierhoff is leaving hospital. Walking.
Another suggestion is a "Front-rower's Certificate" which would only allow a boy to pack in the front-row if he's done a course progressing from one-on-one to three-on-three engagements and so on.
The spate of serious spinal injuries is not a scrum-thing or a stampede of bulked up 100kg rugby players squashing kids 30kg less in weight.
They have come from a fall in a lineout, an awkward head contact in a ruck, a scrum collapse and, the latest, a cover tackle on Nudgee College winger Alexander Clark as he scored.
Neither Terrace Second XV prop Conor Tweedy, 16, hospitalised by a scrum collapse, or 15Bs winger Clark, 15, were even playing in the "As" where size is part of the arms race.
"One is too many so everything possible is what we have to do," said former Wallaby Tim Horan, a long-time fundraiser for Spinal Life Australia through Classic Wallabies lunches.
Just because it seems a crazy, random series doesn't make it any less serious as Rugby Australia chief executive Raelene Castle stressed.
"The reality is that it's been 10 years since we've had a significant injury in schoolboy rugby and the fact that we've had a cluster in GPS is something we're concerned about," Castle said.
"That's why we will review and if anything pops up or we identify anything specific then we'll look to change our policies and procedures."
Castle will oversee a meeting tomorrow of representatives from the nine GPS schools, both rugby directors and principals.
Already 71 kids have been moved in Brisbane junior rugby this year, mostly big kids up an age group, under Rugby Australia's shrewd new "Size for Age" guidelines.
More than 5000 scrums, most schoolboy, were reviewed over 2016-17 by Rugby Australia when any safety issues over collapses were examined.
Rugby is a collision sport. Former Wallabies coach John Connolly wants safety as everyone does but regulate out the contact and the game losses its essence.
The cheers from Nudgee College's rugby fields are the birdsong of Saturday mornings in winter not last weekend's heartbreaking sound.
"We live and have done for many years in the street that runs down behind Nudgee's grandstand and to hear an ambulance siren screaming sends shivers down your spine," Boondall grandmother Patricia Corbett said.