School rugby’s ‘giraffe in the room’
A LEADING emergency doctor says rugby-loving kids with "giraffe necks" should be told to find another sport to reduce traumatic spinal injuries.
Dr Phillip Kay has recommended parents and rugby leaders pull unsuited players out of the code, rather than rely on safety measures.
"I'm not anti-rugby, but the point is being missed in all the safety strategies that there are kids who are basically mini-giraffes playing the wrong sport," he said.
"You put them into a situation with the physics of hard play, be it extreme force or a combination of unusual angles, and the neck is bent and flexed easily because it is thin and long.
"They are prone to these accidents and I strongly believe they should not be playing contact rugby."
Dr Kay said parents should concentrate on suitable sports for their children's body types.
"Rugby's change to age-weight rules should help somewhat, but parents should have those kids with long, thin necks bail out of rugby or rugby league early to play soccer or AFL," he said.
"You need to be built like a rhino with a short, thick neck to play a heavy contact sport, especially if you are playing in the scrum.
"My advice - giraffes play something else."
Dr Kay, who has worked with spinal injury victims since 1982, spoke out because the four serious spinal injuries in the GPS rugby competition in the past month highlighted an issue often under the radar.
"This distresses me because I've lost count of those I have treated with broken necks, plus or minus, spinal cord injuries," he said.
Terrace prop Conor Tweedy, 16, caught in a scrum collapse, and Nudgee College's Alexander Clark, 15, remain in hospital.
Dr Kay agreed with Rugby Australia's new "size for age" policy, which means bigger boys can move up an age level.
"For too long, young boys who are light and thin have been playing contact sport against large, thick-set boys already shaving in Year 11," he said.
"These are kids and we are duty bound to protect them because they don't understand the risks they are taking."
A 75-minute teleconference yesterday reinforced safety with rugby directors of the nine GPS schools, GPS Association executive officer Nicole L'Efevre, Rugby Australia's rugby services head Lachlan Clark and Queensland counterpart Nico Andrade.
"There was an update on the progress of the four players and the positive news, that whilst it is a long road ahead for some, all are in good spirits," Ms L'Efevre said.
Nudgee College principal Peter Fullagar said Clark had been moved yesterday from intensive care to a hospital ward at Lady Cilento Children's Hospital.
"Mr (Paul) Clark relayed to the college that Alexander is now eating and drinking, and has made 'amazing progress since his emergency surgery Saturday night'," Mr Fullagar said.
"While Alexander's recovery will be a long process, he has age, health and fitness on his side."