This article isn’t about trophies. We review whether rugby players wear protective cups under their shorts.
We take a look at the laws around protective gear, and why some players prefer to wear cups and some never do. But first, let’s look quickly at what kind of kit we’re talking about.
Cups, Jockstraps, And Compression Shorts
The word “cup” is a fairly accurate description of what a protective cup is. It’s a domed, oblong plastic cup with padding on the edges that fit at the groin area.
In rugby and other sports, the protective cup can be held in place by either a jockstrap or compression shorts.
It’s also known in the UK as a “box”, typically called this by cricketers.
A jockstrap has long been the most common way of wearing a cup. A jockstrap consists of a waistband made of elastic, and two elastic loops for the players’ legs. There is a cloth pouch on the front of the waistband that holds the cup and everything else.
The jockstrap is designed this way to allow maximum freedom of movement for the athlete.
In recent years, compression shorts have started to supplant the jockstrap in popularity. Compression shorts are skintight, elastic shorts that also can have a pouch to hold the cup.
Many athletes now consider this a more comfortable way to wear a cup because there are no straps to dig in or chafe, while still giving the same freedom of movement.
Are Rugby Players Allowed Wear Cups?
There is no specific law in Rugby Union that mentions protective cups. However, there is a law the prohibits gear or kit with rigid material.
A player may not wear…any items containing …rigid material…not otherwise permitted under this law.World Rugby Laws
The section of the law goes on to list several pieces of kit that are exceptions to this law. That includes these items that certainly have hard plastic:
- “Mouth guard or dental protector”
- “Ankle supports worn under socks.. and, if rigid, from material other than metal”
But a cup isn’t one of the exceptions. If the sports authorities wanted to encourage them, they’d surely be listed here.
However, as far as I know, the laws have never been tested with regards to a cup. I’ve never heard of a player been told to remove one by a match official.
However, checking what’s under the shorts is not part of a referee’s inspection. If players feel strongly about wearing a cup, they will probably not be prevented.
Why Do Some Rugby Players Wear Cups?
Rugby is a collision sport and a player’s groin area is both somewhat exposed and very sensitive. A hard collision with the groin can be seriously debilitating.
So, it’s understandable that some players want extra protection.
A percentage of injuries to these sensitive organs can also be fairly serious. Blows could result in contusions, lacerations, ruptures and could even, in an extreme case, contribute to fertility problems.
For some players, wearing a cup may let them feel that they have some protection from these injuries.
A player who is coming back from a groin injury also might want to wear a cup to protect his groin area while it is still not fully healed.
This is no different than a player coming back from a hand injury taping his fingers for the match, or a player with a sore knee wearing a knee sleeve or knee brace.
My experience at club level
I haven’t seen any survey that gives percentages on the likelihood of players wearing cups. So, I’ll go by my own experience at amateur level.
In general, players in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand tend not to wear cups unless returning from a groin injury.
Jockstraps were traditionally more common in the UK and Ireland than in the Southern Hemisphere. Compression shorts have now become popular with players at all levels.
My impression from rugby forums is that players are more likely to wear cups in the United States. They may be more used to the practice from playing other sports with a hard ball, like lacrosse or baseball.
Why Don’t Many Rugby Players Wear Cups?
Many rugby players feel that wearing a cup would make them less effective as players and less comfortable when playing.
There is a perception that the straps and band on the jockstrap can dig in and chafe, and that that cup itself can pinch.
It’s also very common for players to feel that a cup interferes with their running, flexibility, and agility.
A player is on the field to perform. If equipment makes them feel slower, less agile, or less effective, they won’t wear it if they’re given the choice.
Worse than just uncomfortable?
There is also the potential for the cup to actually make an injury worse. A bad landing can drive the edges of the cup into a leg, causing a bruise. For the cup to work, it has to be in exactly the right place.
In a sport like rugby where there is a lot of bending, grabbing, falling, and hitting, it is common for the player’s gear to get disarranged.
So, what happens if the cup gets moved off-center during a play, then gets hit before the player can adjust it? The edges of the cup can dig directly into the skin, causing a worse injury than the original blow ever would have.
There is also the possibility that a cup could shatter, doing more damage than the blow it’s trying to cushion. This is the reason cups are banned in some full-contact martial arts.
These beliefs, combined with the relative rarity of hits to the groin, are the reasons many players do not even consider wearing a cup.
Foul Play That A Cup Could Prevent
One example of a foul play that groin protection could prevent can be seen in the 2020 Six Nations match between England and Wales.
The incident involved popular England prop Joe Marler.
In footage of a scuffle during the match, Marler was clearly seen grabbing Welsh player Alun Wyn Jones by the testicles.
World Rugby has a specific foul for grabbing, twisting, or squeezing private parts. This carries a penalty of anywhere between twelve weeks suspension or up to four years.
Marler was given ten weeks suspension after mitigating factors were taken into account.
In his defense, it was clear that no injury was intended and Jones was not injured. Marler is known for his eccentric sense of humor.
However, it’s easy to see how this kind of foul play could create some truly horrendous injuries.
A cup could be very good protection against this. Whether in a jockstrap or compression shorts, the cup would hold too tight to the body to grab, twist or squeeze. Even if the grabbing is done with serious malicious intent.
Rare Rugby Injuries That A Cup Could Prevent
This brings us to the case of Haydn Peacock, a rugby league player.
Peacock was playing in a French Federation of Rugby Elite 1 match when an opposing player grabbed his private parts and dragged him to the ground.
Peacock continued to play until halftime when he checked inside his shorts. The team doctor took one look at the injury and sent him to the hospital. The wound required 11 stitches.
Peacock was back playing in the next game! And even this gruesome injury couldn’t get Peacock to wear a cup. His coach tried to convince him to get one, but he refused. His reasoning? He had this to say:
“I’m not going to play with a cup, I’m not going to be able to run.”Haydn Peacock interview
This shows just how strong the resistance is to cups among many players.
Could a cup have prevented this injury? It certainly could have.
With his private parts held tight against his body and under a shield, there would have been nothing for the opposing player to grab.
This is true of many rugby injuries to this area. As long as they stay in place, cups are great protection against grabbing, twisting, and crushing injuries of all types. Yet, their use remains uncommon.
Other Protective Equipment
There are other types of protective equipment that you have to be sure don’t fall foul of the Rugby laws.
Want to protect your shins from being kicked in scrums and mauls? Referees won’t allow the same gear as used in football or hockey because they have rigid plastic. Check out our article on shin guards that are suitable for rugby.
Many players also like extra protection for their shoulders. Check out our article on shoulder pads in rugby.