Committee yields summary review of Robert Paylor's injury; USA Rugby launching medical & disciplinary review, safety initiatives

A committee has determined the spinal cord injury Cal’s Robert Paylor endured May 6 resulted from a sequence of actions that included a number of infringements and although rare, was avoidable. The oversight of the incident is still ongoing. In the meantime, USA Rugby has mandated several safety initiatives.

LAFAYETTE, Colo. - USA Rugby has no greater mission than to achieve the safest possible environment for all rugby players, and are recapitulated in World Rugby's Principles of Play:

At first glance it is difficult to find the guiding principles behind a game, which to the casual observer, appears to be a mass of contradictions. It is perfectly acceptable, for example, to be seen to be exerting extreme physical pressure on an opponent in an attempt to gain possession of the ball, but not willfully or maliciously to inflict injury.

It's important that tragic and avoidable incidents like the spinal cord injury Robert Paylor suffered on May 6 are used to reaffirm our absolute necessity and responsibility to coach, teach and hold to account - from youth to senior club - the standards of safety our game requires.

USA Rugby affirms there are non-negotiables in our game, including, but not limited to: don't hit players in the air, boots never above the shoulder, return your opponent to the ground safely, no binds, tackles, contact whatsoever, around the neck and head.

An ad hoc committee has extensively reviewed the event and the actions of the players leading up to Paylor's injury. In its summary, the committee indicated that although there were a number of infringements that contributed to this tragic outcome, a key contributing factor was the reckless bind of a defender across the back of Robert's neck. The committee struggled with, and did not come to a conclusion on intent, but that is not important. What does matter is a player engaged in a reckless action, failed to recognize it was reckless, and as a result, there was an outcome that no one would have intended.

"I want to thank this committee, the first of several examining this event, for its service and dedication to this extremely thorough review," USA Rugby CEO Dan Payne said.

With the foregoing in mind, USA Rugby will be launching a number of initiatives as a result of the committee's report, including:

  • The commencement of a disciplinary review of the incident
  • A medical review committee has begun a review process with the following goals:
  1. Identify and describe the mechanism of injury,
  2. Provide feedback in regards to safety issues identified with the mechanism and rugby play,
  3. Provide recommendations to USAR to reduce risk of injuries similar to this case.
  • A review of all delivered courses to ensure they include a safety module that specifically focuses on contact to the neck and head at the tackle, ruck, maul and scrum and an ethos that promotes a zero tolerance for such behavior.
  • All USAR staff will be charged with reinforcing the safety concerns described above and promoting the ideal of zero tolerance while encouraging others, coaches, match officials, administrators, to do the same.

Looking forward, Payne stressed the paramount steps each of us as players, coaches, referees, trainers and administrators must take to improve as caretakers of rugby.

"I implore everyone in our community to reinforce these basic tenets of our game at practice, in film sessions, and any other available avenue. Look for and reward the instances of fair and safe play the same way we applaud a try, a poach, or a hustle moment. Immediately, publicly, and loudly praise and positively reinforce these acts of discretion and restraint when you see them occur."

Every practice should start with a message of safety, respect, the importance of safe play and the associated techniques and each person associated with our game must make it their responsibility to preach the words found in the Playing Charter:

It is through discipline, control and mutual respect that the Spirit of the Game flourishes and, in the context of a game as physically challenging as Rugby, these are the qualities which forge the fellowship and sense of fair play so essential to the game's ongoing success and survival.