Objectives To identify the circumstances in which international rugby players exit the playing area during match activities and to define a safe run-off distance around the playing area.
Method An observational study using video recordings of 102 matches associated with the Rugby World Cup (2011), Rugby Championship (2013, 2014) and Six Nations Championship (2013, 2014) were used to analyse every event in which one or more players exited the playing area during normal match activities. The circumstances in which a player exited the playing area were categorised using a range of parameters: playing position, location, out-of-play region, match activity, distance travelled over the touchline, contacts made with pitchside fixtures and fittings.
Results Ninety-five per cent of player-excursions took place within 5.2 m of the touchline. Players exiting the playing area were nearly three times more likely to be a back than a forward (p<0.001) and the event was more likely to take place when a team was defending than attacking (p<0.001). Being forced out of play during a contact event (70%) was the major reason for players exiting the playing area. Most players (88%) exiting the playing area only made contact with the perimeter area surface; a small proportion of players contacted touchline flags (6.1%), advertising boards (2.3%) and TV cameras/equipment (1.0%).
Conclusions A minimum hazard-free distance of 5 m around a Rugby pitch is proposed based on the 95% percentile frequency distribution of player-excursion events into the areas contiguous with the playing area.
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