World Rugby’s chief medical officer told the BBC that the sport’s rules will have to change in order to reduce concussions.
The cases of reported concussions in rugby have doubled in the past five years and a UK expert has claimed that on average one player will suffer a brain injury at every Six Nations’ match.
Only one in 10 concussions result in a loss of consciousness and concussion can cause dizziness, nausea, memory loss and personality change. Persisting symptoms can cause post-concussion syndrome, which can lead to depression and personality changes lasting days, weeks or months.
The chief medical officer said: “Player welfare is about identifying what the risk is and then bringing about change.
“There’s no doubt that the biggest area that we know where concussion is going to occur is in the tackle, so that will help us to look at the tackle and see what we can do to make it safer.
“My job is to identify risk and then look for solutions and then present those solutions to the law-makers to make the changes that will bring about protection of the athlete.”
Post-concussion syndrome ended Andy Hazell’s 17-year pro rugby career and he told the BBC that “I think it’s not so much the one-off contact but the repeat concussion, the repeat hit that maybe is not helping – where it’s not head on head but it’s just heavyweight collisions, just bang, bang, bang.”
“I was seeing stars, things like that, I’d probably say 20 times. I’d feel light-headed and I’d be training and I’d actually feel in a dream. I’d be standing at the back of the line-out thinking this is like I’m actually dreaming.
“I was scared about what could happen. When it’s my knee and things like that I always sort of just try and push through it. But this time I was cautious – this is your brain and you can’t mess about.
“In one of the sessions we did there was a loose ball and I hesitated, and then I knew inside me that that was it really. I never wanted to be that player who hesitates or tries to shirk something.
“[After retirement] Every day I was getting worse and worse. I was more snappy around the family, I could feel myself becoming that person. That sort of accumulated then with the depression.
“I took a bit of time where I did nothing. Touch wood now I feel good and the only thing now I have to think about now is what will happen in the future.”
At the moment, there are no clear changes being put in place to reduce the number of concussions however its current debate suggests that changes will be made.
By Francesca Stainer