Rugby’s concussion crisis: ‘Solid progress, but job is far from done’

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The former England and Sale Sharks hooker, who joined the Reds in July, believes the formal measures now implemented across all forms of rugby will continue to reduce the risks associated with head knocks, but he hinted that governing bodies could still make gains on training fields.

Webber’s comments come in the wake of news that eight former players, including 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson, are threatening legal action against governing bodies World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for negligence over the risks caused by concussions.

Thompson, who won 73 caps for England, says he cannot remember winning the World Cup 17 years ago and has recently been diagnosed with early onset dementia and possible chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a degenerative condition discovered within American football in the early 2000s and made famous by the 2015 movie Concussion, starring Will Smith.

The seven other players joining Thompson – including fellow England international Michael Lipman and Wales number 8 Alix Popham, have all received the same diagnosis.

Temporary substitutions to cover head injury assessments [HIA] were added to World Rugby laws in 2015, with players now also having to pass strict ‘Return to Play’ protocols, lasting a minimum of seven days, after being sidelined with concussion.

‘I feel very sorry for these guys who have been affected and I hope they can be looked after,’ said Webber, who made 16 appearances for England, including three at the 2015 World Cup.

‘It is a very physical sport and that’s one of the reasons why we love it, but it has to be managed. Looking at player welfare in training and giving them suitable time off – it has only got better as time has gone on and there will continue to be strides made around that.

‘If you look at NFL, they limit things in training and maybe that’s a route we can go down. But equally if you don’t train you don’t prepare, so there always has to be that element in training for contact sports.’

He added: ‘If people are suffering ill-health, it is something that needs to be looked at. I think the protocols put in place in recent years, the general understanding of concussion and brain injuries and the way we look after players is very good. We just need to make sure there are further developments as we go on.

‘Players now go off for HIA and there are clear “Return to Play” protocols for head injuries. There are baseline cognitive tests you have to do before players can play… when I started playing none of that existed.’

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