Anybody who has ever seen rugby union played at the highest level will be all too aware of the physicality required to play the game.
80 minutes of physical collisions is sure to take its toll on the body with rugby players working to the mantra of when and not if they get injured. However, with many recently retired professionals now being diagnosed with early onset dementia, questions are being asked of the protocols that used to be in place in the world game.
Former England hooker Steve Thompson who made over 70 appearances for his country, winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003, is leading the battle.
School of Hard Knocks
Like most sports, the medical and physical developments within rugby have accelerated significantly in recent years, with appropriate concussion and head injury protocols now very much part of the game.
In times gone by however, the mantra of ‘not showing you are hurt’ or ‘getting on with the game’ was something every rugby player subscribed too. In addition, picking up an injury was previously treated with the magic sponge and every player had almost full autonomy as to whether they carried on playing after an injury.
As a result, many players were picking up continual impacts throughout every game and with limited medical expertise on hand to treat any knocks, injuries often manifested into more serious ones in later life.
Scrummaging and mauling has developed significantly in recent years across professional rugby, with forwards now receiving more protection from referees and rule makers when they are on the ground. Previously however, it was the forwards who were taking the majority of the hits during every game, often when already on the floor in a static position.
As a hooker, Steve Thompson would expect to take as many as 80-100 hits within any game of rugby, a physical impact that is sure to take its toll.
Thompson, along with former Welsh international Alix Popham are two of 8 men pushing forward with the initial compensation claim against World Rugby. Experts have also predicted that there are likely to be as many as 200 fellow professionals within the same age bracket that could have been exposed to potentially life changing injuries.
Will they win?
This is very much a landmark case within world rugby, and it could open the floodgates for future cases of its ilk. Forwards have always taken the brunt of the hits within the professional game and the fact that rugby only turned professional in the mid 1990’s, could have an impact on the case itself.
Football for example, has been far more aware of the medical aspects of the game–with sport scientists commonplace since the start of the 90’s, whereas rugby has undergone significant change in a short space of time.
Whilst the case is sure to garner much media attention, the thoughts of everybody are with the players who have received the dementia diagnosis and the families that are affected by it.