If you’ve been following the fortunes of Macclesfield Blues this season you’ll have been struck by two things: we haven’t honestly hit the ground running so far this season, and we’ve suffered an inordinate number of injuries. Now have you ever wondered why this should happen? We know that Head Coach and Director of Rugby, Geoff Wappett has. The one thing we can say with certainty is that this run of injuries is possibly the worst the Club has seen, and that there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it. Sometimes you’re just dealt a bitter blow. So in the interests of science, and for the sake of our supporters, we thought we’d get the opinions of Mike Carolan, Macclesfield Blues’ Head Physiotherapist. Mike works with the squad week in week out: so if anybody knows the answers, then he’s your man. So, if you’ve ever wondered what causes injuries and how to treat them, then read on.
Why are so many injuries occurring at the moment?
‘It’s an interesting question. To be honest I’ve never seen this kind of injury volume per playing/training hour in my professional career in any sport or with any team. I wondered whether it was the change in the rules and the increased speed in the game, but I think the converse idea is that the players in the National Leagues are at the pinnacle of what we would call semi-professional sport, and often come up against professional units vying for promotion to the championship. This means bigger, faster and harder hits associated with contact situations. The guys also work, so recovery from playing and training is difficult, more so than professional players, and this can affect both physical and mental state. Why now though? Other teams such as Hull, Sedgley, Caldy for instance are in the same predicament with several injuries, but the nature of some of our injuries could be seen as bad luck.’
Why do so many of the injuries seem to happen to the back row?
‘When you look at our starting back row players – Chris Jones (broken leg), Frankie Barker (knee cartilage), Ryan Parkinson (fractured hand, fractured arm) the three of them have all been involved in contact situations either defending or attacking and they’ve been somewhat unfortunate. Other players have played there including Tom Cruise (eye, neck), Dave Marwick (groin), Kirk Robinson (shoulder), Jack Scott-Sugden (hamstring): all these injuries have to be seen in context. Tom was unlucky with his eye as he was playing well. Dave seems to have struggled with the fitness expectations we have at the club and his groin has suffered as a result; however, he’s undergoing intense rehab now and will be on the mend. Jack had been away for two weeks on holiday and had lost fitness and his hamstring tightened: the Club had to play him in the back row because of the long injury list and the hamstring finally gave up on him two games in. We’ve also had Dave Blackwell injure his knee at Cinderford who can also cover the back row.’
What sort of injuries are the team sustaining and is there a pattern to them, or are they just random?
‘The injuries we’ve seen this year are random. They’ve occurred in training, in the warm up, and at home during matches. so there’s no real pattern at all. The injuries have been caused mainly by extrinsic factors: in other words outside of our control. Tom Eaton’s injury was caused by a slip in the warm up where he turned his ankle, and although he was able to start the Coventry game he was then caught badly and had to come off after 5 minutes. Billy Robinson slipped in work and injured his ankle and has been on crutches since. Jack Moorhouse’s jaw injury was caused by a stray boot in a training drill tackle: an injury that came was out of nothing. These 3 random events highlight the unfortunate nature of the injury occurrences we’ve had. Then add in Dean Williams, who is a big loss, please excuse the pun: his problem is due to bony bruising in his knee. This type of injury heals very slowly, and whilst he wanted to play on, we (Geoff, Andy, Myself and Dean) felt it was best for him to allow it time to heal properly, get fit and do himself justice on the field when he’s back.’
Has this got anything to do with conditioning, or are the injuries purely down to bad luck?
‘I’ve got to be honest our conditioning, based on what’s available to us at Macc on training nights is superb. Guy Salmon puts together consummate fitness sessions that even the hardest athlete, let alone rugby player, would struggle to complete. In fairness I think it helps us fight for every point and gave us the platform to finish where we have done previously. Additionally, Tom Davenport for instance is meeting me down at the track (Sports City Manchester) and going through footwork and speed drills. The players had strength and power programs to do during the off season also. So in my eyes the conditioning side of things couldn’t be better on training nights: the difficulty arises when we’re talking about the difference between part time professionals or semi-professional and fully professional players. Our guys work every day and then have to try to fit in training when they can. Chris Roddy, for instance, has come straight from a night shift and been involved on a Saturday with us. Naturally this can affect performance.’
‘Is it just bad luck? Well you could say it is but that could be conceived as a cop out. I’d prefer to say we’ve just been unlucky with some of the injury circumstances we’ve had to deal with so far.’
Can anything be done – for instance, improved core strength and conditioning exercises, to reduce the likelihood of injury?
‘Currently the players have their own programmes to complete in their spare time. We have two student interns available for remedial massage along with Caron, who has been amazing working with myself treating and rehabbing the injuries. But ultimately when you look at who we’ve had injured and why, there aren’t many things that can be done about it. Now you could argue that if we make them quicker or more agile they could side step a tackle, but then you end up going in circles: the counter argument is that if they are quicker they might get into contact situations earlier without support or protection. Moreover they may not be robust enough if they lose too much weight so that they can get quicker. Charlie Mulchrone was a prime example of this last year and the year before: he’s a superb athlete – mobile, agile and scores superb tries, but we lost over 20 weeks of rugby due to an elbow fracture and two knee ligament injuries. This was simply because he wasn’t built for high load contact situations.’
‘A lot of it can come down to attitude. Look at Martin Kent, for example: some people wouldn’t single him out as the fittest of the fit, but he’s played virtually every minute of every match this season, and epitomizes what we want to do and achieve. Often that philosophy has to come from within. Sometimes it has to come from the players, as much as it comes from us throwing things at them. The one good and positive thing I would say is that the lads bring a great attitude with them.’
Can complimentary/alternative therapies work alongside standard procedures? Wigan Warriors and Sale Sharks now include yoga in their fitness and conditioning programmes: could such things work for the Blues?
‘Some teams will have the time to fill up their diary with other training interventions, but there has never been any solid proof that any one intervention has helped prevent injury. Yoga will not prevent fractures during contact situations where you have limb on limb collisions. I’m not denying yoga may well have its place as a conditioning tool, but having been at Bradford Bulls when Brian Noble was there, I can tell you the players spent more time either talking or staring at the scantily clad instructor than doing the exercises properly. There are a number of things that could be implemented, but I agree with Geoff and Andy that if we are fit enough and get our skill sets right, then our execution will be at the optimal level. Unlike the pro teams, we have little time on training nights and on match days to focus on anything other than the core skill training we undertake. Mind you, sometimes having too much time can be a bad thing, as you have to find things for them to do. People often underestimate the value of recovery? This is where we heal; where we grow stronger, better tissues. That’s vital I believe but interestingly people always want positive interventions and to be seen to be doing something just for the sake of being seen to be ‘doing something’.’
How does your working relationship with Geoff and Andy help you go about managing injury issues?
‘We all work in honesty. I assess the players on a Tuesday, often having spoken to them; on Sundays after the games I inform Geoff which players are fit and available, and where appropriate, how long it will be before an injured player will be ready to play again. Some injuries are straight forwards: some take more time because I’ll need to assess the players’ response to treatment and rehab. To be honest Geoff and Andy are the best management pairing I have worked with. They make my job easy by understanding the process, and that comes from experience working and playing at the highest levels.’