Rugby: ABs losses a matter of life and death

JUST A GAME:  Now there's more pressure than ever on the All Blacks.
JUST A GAME: Now there's more pressure than ever on the All Blacks.

All Blacks are literally breaking people's hearts when they lose the big games, new research shows.

Evidence from Christchurch doctors Peter Olsen and John Elliott shows that when the All Blacks get knocked out of the Rugby World Cup, the health of the nation suffers, with dramatic spikes in the number of cardiac admissions.

The 1999 World Cup exit to the French produced 33 per cent more heart failure admissions than normal.

Getting knocked out at the semifinals by Australia in 2003 was even more painful - hospitals saw a massive 60 per cent spike in heart failure admissions following the disastrous Sydney loss.

The ill effects of that loss continued well after the game, with the 60 per cent lift in heart failure admissions lasting another two days. In total, there were 67 cases over the three days.

Olsen and Elliott examined admissions to hospitals for acute coronary syndromes (heart attacks and acute angina), arrhythmias, heart failure and strokes for the three days that followed the All Blacks getting knocked out of the 1999, 2003 and 2007 tournaments. They compared the results to the corresponding days of the week in the same months of the previous three years and to the winning campaign in 2011.

The 2007 loss to the French did not provoke the same heart failures as the previous losses, although a 40 per cent increase in heart arrhythmias was recorded.

Conversely, the day after the All Blacks won the World Cup in 2011, there was a 40 per cent decrease in heart failure admissions, although this result was compounded by it also being Labour Day, which usually sees a decrease in admissions.

Heart failure admissions for women also doubled on the day of the Australia match in 2003, as well as two days after the game.

Kees Meeuws, the All Blacks prop in the 2003 semifinal, said the research "epitomised how passionate we are" about rugby and was compounded by the "love-hate relationship" we have with Australia.

Olsen, a researcher at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, and Elliott, a cardiologist and associate professor at Otago University, also hooked up viewers to pulse and blood pressure monitors during the playoff games in the 2011 tournament.

Elliott said heart rates rose by 30 to 60 beats per minute during some of the games.

When Ma'a Nonu scored New Zealand's only try against Australia in the 2011 semifinal the heart-rate rises were the same as people experiencing a 5.1 earthquake, he said.

Olsen said the losses to France in 1999 and 2007 did not result in any significant changes to admissions but thought that was due to both games being in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"Perhaps the buildup to the evening game contributed to increased admissions in 2003," they wrote.

"Alternatively, the New Zealand public might find losing to France less emotionally stressful than losing to their Australian neighbours.

"We just really hate losing to the Aussies."

The positive effects of a World Cup win looked to be borne out by the data on the 2011 cup.

Olsen said when he first looked at the data and saw there was a 40 per cent decrease in heart failure admissions, he thought "oh wow, winning really does protect the population".

Then he realised the day after the win was a holiday, Labour Day.

"Consequently, the observation of decreased hospital admissions is probably due to a holiday effect . . . rather than emotions associated with winning the 2011 RWC."

Sports cardiologist and Heart Foundation chairman of heart health Dr Rob Doughty said it was "absolutely plausible" emotional stress could trigger admissions.

Doughty said people on the verge of heart failure did not have "the same reserves to cope with stress" and could be tipped over the edge by stressful, negative occurrences.

The intensity of response was connected to emotion and for passionate Kiwi fans the Rugby World Cup was a "very emotional event".

Sunday Star Times