Mike Brown has defended Eddie Jones’ training methods after figures revealed players are more likely to be severely injured during sessions conducted on his watch as England head coach.
Jones was heavily criticised last year for the number of casualties sustained in practise, igniting a row with Bath owner Bruce Craig in the wake of prop Beno Obano suffering serious knee damage at a camp in Brighton.
England’s head coach has since adjusted his approach following intervention from the Professional Game Board, but injury figures for the 2017-18 season published on Wednesday illustrate the extent of the issue.
Since he replaced Stuart Lancaster at the end of 2015, both the number and severity of knocks sustained on the training ground and during conditioning sessions have increased every single season and now stand at their highest level since the Rugby Football Union began compiling records in 2002.
Brown, however, sees it as the inevitable consequence of ensuring the English game’s most determined players can thrive at the highest level.
“England training is probably a bit more intense than club training, but you have to understand that as an international you’re a very competitive animal,” said Brown.
“You’re fighting to play for your country, so in every session you want to show what you can do.
“When every player is training like that – which they have to, to get selected – there might be accidents.
“And it’s international rugby, so you have to prepare yourself accordingly. You need to have higher intensity. These things happen.
“The guys at England training are also the most competitive at their clubs and that’s why they’re striving to be international players. If you have 30-odd players like that in a session…”
The RFU’s injury audit for last season revealed minor reductions in concussion and the frequency of injury for Gallagher Premiership matches, English clubs playing in Europe and England internationals.
However, the standout figure was the increase in severity of injury which now stands at an all-time high of an average of 37 days out of the game – an alarming statistic that has prompted the RFU’s head of medicine Simon Kemp to call for more red and yellow cards to be issued for dangerous play and for law revisions to be considered.
“You definitely see that increase in severity around you – the players in the changing room and the physio room in the aftermath of the game,” said Brown.
“It’s then that you see what they’ve put themselves through on the pitch and what they’re left with after a game.
“You go into the physio room after a game – knocks and bruises, but also the amount of stitching that has to be done. Knees, ankles, shoulders. Rugby is tough on the body.”
Brown’s England team-mate Maro Itoje is not surprised by the rise in injury severity because “players are becoming more athletic, stronger, quicker, more agile, bigger”, but he advises caution in escalating the use of red and yellow cards due to existing confusion among officials over what constitutes a dangerous tackle.
“A lot of the tackles that receive yellow and red cards are not dangerous,” said Itoje.
“It needs to be clear what a dangerous tackle is because a lot of the problem I have with this increased awareness and the way tackles are being refereed, is sometimes they are taken rugby sense out of it.”