Why Don’t They Wear Helmets In Rugby?

Rugby has tackling just like American Football but if you have noticed rugby players don’t wear helmets like their football playing cousins. Most players opt to wear no head protection while some choose to wear a soft foam headgear offering minimal protection against concussions.

Are Helmets Worn In Rugby?

Helmets are not worn in rugby. The majority of rugby players do to wear any protection. Players are permitted to wear a foam padded headgear known as a scrum cap, however this offers minimal protection due to lack of jaw protection and thin, soft padding.

Rugby players are famous for wearing no pads or helmets. They run out onto the field in just a jersey, shorts, boots and socks. This macho attitude of not relying on any safety equipment has been a part of rugby since the early days. You were considered soft or weak if you needed protective equipment to survive a game of rugby.

However, as the game has become more professional and the true nature of the havoc the game can cause on athletes’ bodies more and more players have been adopting protective equipment.

Nowadays some players will wear shoulder pads, most wear mouthguards and you will see many players covered from head to toe in all sorts of different tape in hopes of supporting disfigured or compromised limbs.

Despite the rise in protective equipment worn by rugby players helmets are still banned from the game. Instead players are allowed to wear soft foam padded headgears. These are known as scrumcaps. It is debatable if these scrumcaps offer any protection against head injuries and concussions. The data suggest that the support is minimal at best. 

Scrumcaps may not offer much protection against concussions but I suppose a bit of protection is better than none. Many players seem to agree with around 20% to 30% of players now wearing headgear. 

What scrumcaps are really effective at preventing is cauliflower ear which can afflict many forwards. Scrumcaps reduce the friction that the ears suffer when they are being rubbed and bashed during tackles, mauls, at the breakdown and during scrums.

Why don’t they wear helmets in rugby?

Rugby players don’t wear helmets because there are explicit rules that limit contact with the head which do not exist in football. In rugby tackles above the shoulder are illegal and so is tackling a player who does not have possession of the ball or is in mid air.

The common view is that rugby players do not need helmets because the laws of rugby protect their heads from injuries such as concussions.

In rugby there are strict rules about tackling. These rules have been designed to limit brain injuries as players are unable to wear substantial headwear protection so the governing bodies have attempted to step in to offer protection through the codifying of strict rules.

When tackling you can not make contact to a player above their shoulders. This is considered an illegal tackle and will result in a penalty and the offender being potentially sent off the field. This is to prevent players from making contact with vulnerable neck and head area.

During a tackle you can not lift a player past the horizontal line. This is known as a spear tackle and is considered to be a serious foul. This is players from having their heads slammed into the ground. Spear tackles can cause spinal injuries and concussions.

In a rugby match you are prohibited from tackling a player who does not have possession of the ball. This prevents players from being unexpectedly tackled when their bodies are not prepared for contact. These blindside tackles are a major cause of whiplash and concussion.

Finally a player can not be tackled while they are in the air. If you have watched a rugby match you will see when a player is attempting to catch a kick they will leap into the air to avoid being tackled. The prohibition on tackling players in the air prevents rugby athletes from suffering nasty falls from big heights where there is potential for them to land on their neck or head and suffer catastrophic injuries.

Even though there are many laws attempting to protect players heads it is common for rugby players to suffer head injuries either from players committing fouls or from accidental head clashes where players get their heads in the wrong position during contact and end up suffering nasty blows.

The argument has been made that helmets make football more dangerous than rugby because the helmet gives players a false sense of security. They think that the helmet makes them impervious to head injuries and concussions. This results in football players placing their health in jeopardy by taking more risks on the football field because the helmet provides a false sense of invincibility.

The helmet can also be used as a weapon on the football field. Football players will often use their helmet to bump off would be tacklers or use it to drive into attacker players to aid in tackles. If you try to use your head as a battering ram when running with the ball or to help make tackles on the rugby field you are going to seriously hurt your neck and suffer a nasty concussion. 

Even though football has become synonymous with CTE and concussions if we actually look at the latest data we actually see that rugby players are more likely to suffer concussions than football players.

Rugby currently has a concussion rate 18 concussions per 1000 hours of game time which is one of the highest of any sports. While football has a lower rate of concussions at 15 per 1000 hours of play.

So despite all the talk about how helmets make football more dangerous for players’ brains and that the NFL should look into banning helmets, the data shows a different story. Rugby players are in fact more likely to suffer concussions than football players and rugby may need to look into allowing players to wear more substantial head protection during matches.


Rugby players are not allowed to wear hard helmets like you see in football. Instead they have the option to wear soft foam headgears known as scrumcaps. Rugby players do not wear helmets as there are a number of rules that protect players from suffering contact to the head these include no tackling above shoulders, no tackling a player without the ball or who is in the air.

Despite the rules that are in place to protect rugby athletes’ heads and to prevent concussions they are not effective as rugby currently has a higher concussion rate than football (18 per 1000 vs 15 per 1000).

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