A LECTURER at the University of Bradford has questioned if competitive scrums in rugby union matches should become a thing of the past due to their potential to cause long term medical problems.

Jamie Beck, a lecturer specialising in medical imaging, has studied the dangers of the sport on player's long term health, and how these dangers can increase in younger players.

With rugby once in the national spotlight thanks to the Six Nations starting this weekend, Mr Beck has called for more debate about certain aspects of the game.

The member of the university's School of Allied Health Professions and Sport pointed out that at last year's Six Nations tournament, 63 out of every 100 scrums collapsed - a collapse can lead to serious injuries for the players involved.

Mr Beck, who recently published a peer reviewed paper on the subject, added: "Many, if not all participation sports come with a risk of injury, but in rugby the risk of both head and cervical spine injuries are increased, and it is these injuries that have both life threatening and life altering consequences for the players involved and for their families.

"The risk of both head and cervical spine injury is heightened by the seemingly increasing size and strength of professional rugby players at the highest level of both codes but at that level, the players are of similar size and the medical support teams are instantly available.

"Lower down, and particularly in junior games where young people of different heights and build are often put against each other despite being in the same age bracket, the potential for injury is arguably greater."

He said that while there was a lot of focus on the dangers of head injury and concussion in sports like rugby, more awareness was needed of possible spinal damage playing these sports can cause.

Mr Beck added: "The probability of cervical spine injury occurring as a result of a tackle can be reduced by good tackle technique are proper enforcement of the laws of the game, but it is the scrum that remains an area of concern with some evidence suggesting that the number of cervical spine injuries resulting from scrum collapses has been underestimated as the research is not focussed on those players who form the scrum.

"Rugby union purists may suggest that the scrum represents an integral part of their sport which has been played for many decades and that cervical spine injuries are rare. Improvements have been made in the conduct of competitive scrums in rugby union, but the risk of injury cannot be completely eradicated and one would argue from a medical perspective that the consequences of a cervical spine injury are too severe to be ignored.

"If we are serious about protecting particularly our young players from cervical spine injury then the continued practice of competitive scrummaging should be questioned."

No-one at the Rugby Football Union was available for comment.