Hendon chairman: Players must now be fitter than ever to avoid injury due to changes in the game

Mike Evans-Jones scored one of Hendon's seven tries in Saturday's victory over UCS Old Boys. Picture

Mike Evans-Jones scored one of Hendon's seven tries in Saturday's victory over UCS Old Boys. Picture: Paolo Minoli - Credit: Archant

Hendon chairman David Gershlick says changes and developments in the game mean players now have to be fitter than ever to avoid injury.

UCS Old Boys’ director of rugby Geoff Boxer last week bemoaned his inability to field a consistent squad of players, and Hendon – who have been promoted to Herts/Middlesex Division One this year - were missing eight players when they overcame their local rivals in Saturday’s rearranged league clash.

It is a recurring theme in the amateur ranks – Hampstead’s Will Pettit broke his arm at the end of last month.

And, while Gershlick feels the national governing body is doing good work in making the game safer, he feels the importance of fitness, strength and conditioning has increased immeasurably due to the introduction of the national pyramid and the desire to emulate the world’s top players.

“As a game becomes more competitive, so fitness levels have got to increase,” he told Ham&High Sport. “More injuries are happening because of the intensity of the game.

“It’s the rugby that everybody wanted - it’s a league. Rugby was a game for all shapes and sizes, and it still is, but I’m afraid winning now is so much more important because if you lose your games you get relegated, and nobody wants that.

“If you’re playing in a competition then you want to win it - you start the season by saying ‘we’re good enough to go up another league’. But I think we’ve got to get used to the increased physicality and the fitness levels. Every time you go up a league it’s going to be one or two paces faster.

Most Read

“The game has changed materially in terms of defence lines and tackling. You have the choke tackle now, with two boys on one. The whole methodology of playing rugby from my day of playing has totally changed.

“I think with the exposure of senior rugby on television, everybody wants to emulate what those boys do all the way down to base camp, and those guys are generally playing with more height and muscle, and they’re fitter of course.”

Gershlick continued: “The hierarchy are trying to make the game safer, there’s no question about it. You’ve got this 10-minute rule now where a player’s got to retire [if they get a head injury] - however he feels he’s got to come off the park. It’s the same with blood.

“It’s the other injuries – the ankle turning, the knee being taken out, the flying tackle. You’re taught now to fly at the tackle bag, and that player’s got to come down. In the choke tackle, two of you are grabbing hold of the player and you’re wrapping him and you can turn his body in different directions before you dump him.

“I had broken fingers from playing scrum-half and not getting my hand out the way in time – minor injuries. But now you’re getting serious, long-lasting tendon injuries around the Achilles and the hamstring, as well as breaks.

“With that said, once you have competitive competition the whole time it does intensify your ability to be better, and you could then argue from the RFU’s point of the view that if that emulates all the way up right to the top then we can compete with the likes of the All Blacks, Australia and the rest of the world on a level playing field.

“Of course, there are also other factors that affect availability, not just injuries. Players have work and social commitments, which possibly affect us more as a London club, and the nature of the city means people sometimes have to travel quite long distances to get to where they’re meant to be.”

While Gershlick feels the number of injuries are increasing in the game in general, Hendon’s director of rugby John Casalaspro is confident that his players are being well looked after and have the right people around them.

“The rise in injury frequency in rugby has been attributed as much to a lack of technical input from qualified and experienced coaches - especially at scrum time - as to collisions during the game,” he said. “Our injuries so far are about average for the early part of the season.

“We play against teams with a similar catchment of players - we don’t play against massive professionals so that doesn’t really come into the reckoning, and we have no injuries due to scrums. I believe with Brimah [Kebbie] and myself we have two of the most experienced people in our league, and safety is very important to Hendon.”

Hendon initially fell behind in Saturday’s league match against UCS Old Boys as Dan Chapman crossed the whitewash, but the hosts hit back and took a 22-5 lead into the interval.

Chris Pope touched down for UCS and narrowed the gap at the start of the second period, but Hendon motored away and ended up with seven tries.

Dave Francis crossed the line twice and Jamie Connolly, Robert Nunez, John Paul Cremin, Mike Evans-Jones and Chris Kiyingy also registered their names on the scoresheet.