Is Concussion Killing Rugby?


Rugby and concussion. Recent rugby headlines have been somewhat saturated with concussion stories. Concussion has always been a problem in rugby due to the high level of contact in the sport. However, in the gym going, size dominated era of rugby we are seeing a huge increase in concussion stats raising both concerns and awareness. The laws of rugby have changed in correlation with the rise in head injuries and the world of rugby is trying to shake off the ‘man up and play on’ attitude players and coaches have towards head injuries.
Could concussion kill rugby? Is grassroots rugby doing enough to prevent serious long term injuries?
Concussion is a sudden but short lived loss of mental function that, in rugby, occurs after a blow to the head. At amateur level concussions are especially hard to diagnose with the lack of medical professionals on hand as well has the widespread ‘man up’ attitude grassroots players have towards concussion. Therefore, amateur players are at a much higher risk.
Concussion, despite being only a minor head injury, can often have very serious consequnces. As rugby fans we’ve seen Will Greenwood nearly lose his life to a major concussion on the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 as well as ex Welsh flanker Jonathan Thomas having to retire due to repeated head injuries causing Epilepsy.
It is especially sad when the rugby world has to witness a young player with so much potential having to hang up his boots because of repeated concussions. This was the case with ex Cornish Pirate, Locryn Williams who was forced to quit rugby following a major concussion. Locryn was playing for Cornwall U20s against Devon U20s when he suffered the latest in a string of concussions.

“I’ve never felt anything like it.”

Locryn described the sheer agony he felt in his head once he had woken up: “I nearly broke my dad’s hand I squeezed it so hard.”Concussions can lead to further health problems. Locryn was initially depressed having played rugby since the age of five creating some life long memories playing the sport he loved with his friends. Being advised not to play the sport again must have been a bitter pill to swallow. “Having to re-evaluate everything was very depressing.”
Locryn overcame the depression . Evidently he is a very talented sportsman and his exit from rugby allowed him to rekindle his love for Judo. Locryn took home Oxford Brooke’s Sports Fresher of the Year for his contribution to Judo. “Judo was my silver lining.”
It wasn’t only Locryn that was affected by his rugby career, his mother, Anna, was always anxious watching her son play as he was always right in the centre of the action. She described some of the players in the English academy system as “monsters” and she was not wrong.

Locryn in action. Photo Credit: Geoff Hitchens

The one dimensional gym focus of modern rugby players is a huge contributing factor to the soaring concussion stats. “I am relieved that Locryn has now retired from rugby however, it is a relief that is peppered with sadness.”
Head injuries are a part of rugby but the key question is can they be mitigated against with the correct training on how players should be tackling? Another key question is should we, as a rugby nation, be less gym dominated and more focussed on developing rugby skills like the Kiwis who have had a rugby monopoly for many years.

Whilst Locryn was playing at a high level in the English Championship grassroots rugby doesn’t have the same care. Grassroots rugby has a different view of head injuries and are taken far less serious. Players almost feel embarrassed to leave the field with a head injury which is an old school attitude – Will Greenwood shared this attitude when he first came around. Greenwood screamed for his father to tell his coaches it was his hamstring – even in his dazed state he wanted to keep his concussion quiet.
Lewis Christopher, a young rugby player in South Wales received a concussion in a junior game.
“I didn’t want anyone to know I was concussed – I wanted to stay on.”

Lewis Christopher (red scrum hat) in action. Photo Credit: Mark Harris

There is a lack of professional medics in amateur rugby which is cause for concern when even when the most basic of injuries can have such serious results. While the concussion stats are significantly lower in amateur rugby this is because the players are less likely to admit to having concussion. For concussion to be taken seriously in rugby it needs to start from the bottom. Children should be made aware of the dangers and coaches should have to take part in a course which will allow them to be able to teach a proper rugby tackle technique to minimise the risk of injuries.


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