Cape Town - Few are able to say they have
helped to change the way rugby is played around the world, but this is
something University of Cape Town PhD graduate, James Craig Brown, can say with
Brown’s thesis evaluates the effectiveness
of the BokSmart programme, a nationwide injury-prevention programme for rugby
launched in 2009 by the South African Rugby Union (SARU).
Ultimately, the programme aims to reduce
the incidence of rugby-related catastrophic head and neck injuries in South
Through his research Brown, who graduated
with a PhD in December 2014, found that the scrum engagement sequence in rugby
was dangerous and needed to be adapted to improve the safety of the players. Brown’s
research helped to contribute to a new “crouch, bind, set” sequence in rugby
when setting the scrum, as opposed to the previous “crouch, touch, set”
SARU first announced this change in the school
and amateur rugby level in 2013.
Brown said: “The rest of the world followed
SARU’s lead six months later.”
Based on Brown and his team’s
identification of the most common injuries at the annual SARU youth weeks, the
SARU medical department also drafted a “minimum safety standards” document to
make medical support teams aware of the most likely injuries and how many they
may need to deal with in a day.
“Together with SARU’s medical department,
we developed a general rule to allocate the number of medical doctors to
tournaments based on the number of serious injuries per match. This seemed to
increase with the age of the attendees at the tournament, so that the Under-13
tournament had the least serious injuries, and Under-18 had the most serious.”
Brown’s research found that BokSmart was
able to reduce catastrophic injuries in junior (schoolboy) but not senior
(adult) players after its launch. The study also found that player behaviour
had improved over this period. However, Brown said that although there was
widespread positive response towards the programme, some coaches from high
socioeconomic-status teams felt that the programme was a waste of their time as
they perceived the risk of catastrophic injury to their teams to be negligible.
Having played rugby all his life, Brown
said he has a “huge passion for the game”.
Wanting to complete a PhD that not only
provided novel information to the world but also had a direct application and
improved rugby player safety led Brown to the thesis, Safer rugby through BokSmart? Evaluation of a nationwide injury
prevention programme for rugby union in South Africa.
The thesis evaluation uses both
quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate not only catastrophic
injury rates over time, but also player behaviour and coach and referee
perceptions of the programme.
Brown obtained his BSc in Biochemistry and
Physiology before obtaining his BSc(Med)(Hons) and MSc(Med) in Exercise Science
from UCT. His PhD thesis was a joint project between UCT and VU University in
Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Brown graduated on December 20, 2014, with
a doctorate in Exercise Science from UCT’s Science faculty.