Despite his club seeing four injury-enforced retirements in the same season, Newcastle Falcons hooker Rob Vickers puts it down more to bad luck than a worrying trend.
Italian lock Carlo del Fava last month became the latest Falcons star to call it a day, unable to shake off a neck injury in a career which saw him winning half a century of Italian caps and playing in all the top leagues in Europe.
He joined Tane Tu’ipulotu, Rory Lawson and Andy Higgins in being forced to retire this term, Vickers stating: “Purely from my own opinion it seems a bit of an anomaly, having four retirements in the same season.
“A lot of them are different injuries, and there is no real pattern to it.
“We have had a lot of years without many, if any, retirements, and it just seems unlucky more than anything to have so many in the same season.” Rugby’s move into professionalism has created full-time athletes and increased the impact of collisions, so much so that some are now calling for the laws to be adapted at junior level.
Allyson Pollock, professor of public health, last month said that injuries should not be accepted as normal, Vickers stating: “I do think the nature of the game is changing, and that it is becoming more and more physical.
“If you come into this game thinking you won’t get injured, then you are being very naïve.
“I do feel there will be more and more retirements across the game, but from the Newcastle angle I think we have just been unlucky.”
On the wider point, he added: “If you don’t get your head around the fact you are going to be injured then you are going to be in unpleasant position, because the nature of the sport is that you are running head-on into someone who wants to run head-on into you.
“There are obviously going to be injuries, and how hard you run and tackle will affect the significance of that. There have been some interesting bits in the press about potentially changing the game or whatever, but I think you have to take rugby for what it is.
“It is a contact sport and injuries are going to occur. Yes, you want to try and manage the severity and frequency when and where you can, but hopefully that can become less of an issue as people become more professional in understanding how to play the game.”
The Falcons have acted quickly to minimise the effects of del Fava’s retirement by signing Munster’s Ireland A lock Ian Nagle and former Saracen Harry Spencer, but Vickers insisted the Italian veteran will be a tough act to follow for a Newcastle side still second-bottom in the Premiership with six games to go. “Losing Carlo is huge for the club,” said the front-row forward. “I would describe him as an animal on the field, with big hits and dominant collisions right throughout the game.
“He added huge weight in the scrum and was superb in the line-out, so he was a significant presence for us in all areas. Off the field he was a real gentleman, and I don’t think there are many nicer people in the game than him.
“He could not do enough for you and always wanted to help people.
“It is a huge loss, and it is almost as if the father of the team has been removed. That is what he was to us.”
The Falcons are without a game until a week tomorrow due to the semi-finals and final of the LV= Cup being played, Exeter hosting Northampton in Sunday’s sold-out showpiece.