Rennie, Foster surprised by World Rugby contact plan

Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and All Blacks counterpart Ian Foster both say they were unaware of World Rugby’s move to place a limit on the amount of full contact players are involved in at training.

The governing body on Thursday [AEST] released a set of “guidelines” which it hopes will lead to a reduction in injuries on the training paddock, which at this stage account for 30-35% of all injuries suffered across the game, the majority of which are soft tissue.

World Rugby has set limits of 15 minutes for full contact, 40 minutes for controlled contact and 30 minutes of set-piece training per week as it reinforces its commitment to player welfare.

The guidelines will reportedly be “soft” for now, meaning they won’t be strictly enforced, but the game’s global stewards hope to have some form of signatory document in place for participation at the upcoming Rugby World Cups of 2022 [women] and 2023 [men].

But it appears World Rugby failed to engage the coaches of the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 ranked sides on its plans, with both Foster and Rennie confirming Thursday’s announcement was the first they’d heard of the guidelines.

“To be honest I hadn’t even heard of it prior to today,” Rennie told reporters after announcing his Wallabies team to face Argentina in Townsville.

Foster, meanwhile, thought the proposed training loads were “about right”, yet he too hadn’t seen nor heard about World Rugby’s plans before they were published.

Rennie, who is chasing a third straight win as Wallabies coach on Saturday night, said he would likely need more clarity around what constituted the different forms of contact but agreed player safety was paramount.

That being said, he also noted the need for players to be physically ready to compete on matchday.

“35-40% of injuries happen at training, which means 60-65% if injuries happen in games and we’ve got to make sure at training we’re getting the conditioning load, the contact load, into them so that they A. can deal with it on game day and B. that they’ve got the technique required,” Rennie said.

“Obviously there’s focus around reducing injuries and that’s important, but I think the most important thing is ensuring that our athletes have the skill and the knowledge to deal with the combat.”

Reflecting on the Wallabies’ training this week, Rennie wasn’t sure whether tackling suits would constitute full contact while he thought also that live mauling posed another grey area.

“We suit our boys up a bit, but I guess they’d still call that full contact and bone on bone,” Rennie said. “But they’re often three- and four-minute hits; I think at Tuesday’s training we had two four-minute blocks where we’ve got four teams going so they’re smaller numbers; so that’s about eight minutes of bone-on-bone for that part.

“But from a set-piece point-of-view, there’s a lot of mauling, live mauling, you can’t get away from it in our game. I understand the importance of looking after the athlete but you also need to understand that they’ve got to be trained appropriately to deal with the physical nature of our game.”

The Wallabies coach will seek greater detail on the exact parameters of what is and isn’t deemed full contact, but says he doesn’t see Australia’s training plans changing too much moving forward.

“I don’t think there’d be much change, like I said it’d be good to get clarity on what full contact is,” Rennie said. “We’ll do a lot of structure when we’ll have what we call ‘bodies in front’, so it’s collisions but it’s not at full contact and not full on. It’s just making sure we’ve got a group in front of us so you’re not running 10 metres beyond the opposition.

“So I assume that’s not full contact, we do a lot of that training. The full bone-on-bone, we’d be under 15 minutes. My assumption is it won’t change anything.”