We’re into the third week of the Rugby World Cup and what a tournament it’s been so far. From the shock defeat of South Africa by Japan to the late rush by a never-say-die Wales side to beat hosts England, the World Cup looks like it will keep rugby fans on the edge of their seats right up until the final on 31st October.
Along with all the on-pitch action, the issue of concussion in rugby is still a hot topic. In fact, during the 28-25 triumph over England, Wales full-back Liam Williams was knocked unconscious and stretchered off the field after being kicked in the head by England flanker Tom Wood during an attempt to fly-hack a loose ball.
Wood has since apologised to Williams, who is recovering well from the incident but missed Wales’ last group game against Fiji due to concussion protocols which are being strictly followed by the Welsh medical team.
It’s encouraging to see World Rugby’s “recognise and remove” concussion management guidelines are being taken seriously, but it’s an issue that will continue to blight rugby at all levels, and the next player who sustains a concussion might not make as speedy a recovery as Liam Williams.
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Concussion protocols are all well and good, but more needs to be done to address the head injury risk faced by rugby players.
At least that’s the view of World Rugby medical officer Martin Raferty who told BBC’s Panorama programme that his team will be looking at the tackle in an effort to improve player welfare. As Mr Rafferty said, "There's no doubt that the biggest area 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.”
With rugby seeing a 59% increase in reported concussions last year compared with 2013, any initiative with the aim of reducing a player’s head injury risk can only be welcomed.
We must not forget that, during this Rugby World Cup period, many young people across the country will be tempted to try playing rugby.
Sport England estimate that over 170,000 people play rugby at least once a week – that’s a lot of amateur players who are at much of a risk of sustaining a concussion during a game than the world class players we are used to seeing on our TV screens during this World Cup period.
I was very sad to read the story of David Griffiths recently, an amateur rugby player who sustained a traumatic brain injury during a game when he was 16 years old, and required 24-hour care following the incident. His mother has called for better safety measures to be introduced, including the mandatory wearing of scrum caps by all children who play rugby.
As the World Cup continues and we continue to be captivated by the sport, I certainly hope that decision-makers at all levels of rugby will raise their own game when it comes to player safety.
Ken Brough is a senior personal injury solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.
Slater and Gordon Lawyers offer a free consultation for anyone who has sustained a head injury through no fault of their own. Call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online and we’ll get back to you.