Rugby injuries most expensive on record for ACC, costing over $78m
The bill for rugby injuries is at an all-time high, with ACC paying more than $78 million last year for sprains, strains and, in some cases, life-long care.
The cost jumped from $76.5m in 2015 to $78.2m last year, making it the most expensive year on record, according to ACC.
However, the injury rate is on the decrease. In 2016, 62,336 players were injured while enjoying the national game, down from 63,598 in 2015, and 65,755 in 2014.
ACC sports and injury prevention manager Isaac Carlson said only 6 per cent of all reported injuries were considered moderate to serious.
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It was this 6 per cent that made up 80 per cent of the total bill, he said.
"These injuries are in the moderate to serious end of the spectrum.
"It might be a fracture or dislocation which requires surgery. That is what drives a lot of the costs. Often people are off work if they have an injury like that."
The rising cost was largely down to increased costs of living and medical care, Carlson said.
"Year on year things are costing more, and that is the same with rehabilitation."
The most common injuries were soft tissue ones, followed by fractures, dislocations, and puncture wounds.
The majority of those injured were amateur grassroots players, with tackling and ruck breakdowns the most high-risk areas, Carlson said.
"There are 150,000 registered rugby players. Out of those, there are only about 250 professionals.
"It is your community grassroots level where the bulk of people are injured."
Phillip Spring, 56, was 19 when a charged scrum in 1979 left him a tetraplegic.
The game had become safer due to education about ruck breakdowns, tackling and concussions, he said.
"It is a lot safer ... they are always tweaking it to make it safer.
"I would never been in the same situation now, I would have never have been injured if I was playing now."
There was always a risk playing rugby, and players had to take it on the chin, he said.
"I believe a lot in fate. Sometimes these things are destined for us, that is how I live with what has happened to me."
Last year two players suffered catastrophic spinal injuries, rendering them unable to walk. ACC supports catastrophically injured players throughout their lives, which contributes to the yearly cost.
The most common age group injured in 2016 was 15-19, with 19,518 reported injuries. The next highest age bracket was under 10, with 12,846 injuries.
In both 2011 and 2012, four people over the age of 85 reported rugby-related injuries.
New Zealand Rugby head of community rugby Brent Anderson said the nationwide RugbySmart programme, aimed at educating players and coaches, was driving down the injury rate.
"This season the programme has expanded beyond coach and referee education to engage players, managers, parents and health providers in an effort to make rugby safer and more enjoyable at all levels.
"The reduction in overall injury numbers has occurred while player numbers have been on the rise."
The jump in cost could partly be put down to the cost of rising medical costs, Anderson said.