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Rugby Head Injury Case

ProssPross Posts: 25,468
I've just seen on the news about the case being brought by 11 former pro rugby players including Steve Thompson against the RFU, WRU and World Rugby claiming negligence has resulted in them suffering brain injuries and subsequent early onset dementia.

I'm wondering what the basis of their case will be as it seems obvious to me that anyone choosing a career in a sport with such a high amount of contact would be aware of the risks and therefore accepting them. I assume it will come down to the governing bodies not changing the rules to protect players but that then begs the question of how much you can change it before it would have been something that either wouldn't have attracted them to play it or that they no longer had the skills to have made it to the top level especially someone like Thompson as a front row where that element of physicality is a major factor. Claiming against the WRU, RFU and World Rugby also seems odd as they all work within the rules set down by the IRB so have little say in the rules.

Maybe the claim is that they were encouraged to stay on the field by people who knew they'd had head injuries. It will be interesting to see the outcome as it could have major impacts on numerous sports including cycling where any duty of care seems to have been ignored for years with injured riders, including obvious concussion victims, being literally lifted back onto their bike and sometimes coerced into continuing.
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  • briantrumpetbriantrumpet Posts: 6,034
    edited December 2020
    It's an interesting one. I think if you invented rugby now, and tried to get schools to take it up as a new sport, it would fail risk assessment, given them likelihood of serious injury, not least concussion.

    I seem to remember a statistic that school team players have a one-in-six likelihood of being injured badly enough in any one season to have to miss a week's school.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468
    Thanks. It gives a bit more context but still feels more like a sport in its professional infancy trying to work out how to do things in a new way. I've got a lot of sympathy for him and the others (one started out at my old club) but I'm still not convinced there is a negligence case there. It will be an interesting one to follow though with potentially major implications for many sports.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468

    It's an interesting one. I think if you invented rugby now, and tried to get schools to take it up as a new sport, it would fail risk assessment, given them likelihood of serious injury, not least concussion.

    I seem to remember a statistic that school team players have a one-in-six likelihood of being injured badly enough in any one season to have to miss a week's school.

    True but then I've visited hospital 5 times with head injuries over the years and 3 of those were from crashing in cycle races (I only ever had 3 crashes, one of which was in a TT). One of the others was from rugby, the only time I've been knocked out, and the other a collision in the school playground.
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 52,706 Lives Here
    Not a rugby fan but is it not different at pro level?
  • Pross said:

    It's an interesting one. I think if you invented rugby now, and tried to get schools to take it up as a new sport, it would fail risk assessment, given them likelihood of serious injury, not least concussion.

    I seem to remember a statistic that school team players have a one-in-six likelihood of being injured badly enough in any one season to have to miss a week's school.

    True but then I've visited hospital 5 times with head injuries over the years and 3 of those were from crashing in cycle races (I only ever had 3 crashes, one of which was in a TT). One of the others was from rugby, the only time I've been knocked out, and the other a collision in the school playground.

    One reason I've not raced. Though that didn't stop me getting post concussion syndrome (still suffering over two years on from some symptoms) from a snapped-chain tumble.

    I think the problem with rugby (and heading in football) is the intentional proximity of the head to risk: it's integral to the game as played.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468

    Not a rugby fan but is it not different at pro level?

    Oh yes definitely. Probably the biggest change when the game went pro is that the big players got fitter and faster whilst the fast players got bigger so now you have huge people piling into each other at pace. Have a look at footage from even the 90s and 13 stone would have been quite heavy for the backs whilst most of the forwards, other than maybe the back rowers, would lumber around the pitch. There was more space and fewer tackles too because the fitness levels were lower.

    Also, as eluded to in the article you linked to, they were suddenly doing it for hours a day 5 days a week rather than for a couple of hours twice a week plus match day.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468

    Pross said:

    It's an interesting one. I think if you invented rugby now, and tried to get schools to take it up as a new sport, it would fail risk assessment, given them likelihood of serious injury, not least concussion.

    I seem to remember a statistic that school team players have a one-in-six likelihood of being injured badly enough in any one season to have to miss a week's school.

    True but then I've visited hospital 5 times with head injuries over the years and 3 of those were from crashing in cycle races (I only ever had 3 crashes, one of which was in a TT). One of the others was from rugby, the only time I've been knocked out, and the other a collision in the school playground.

    One reason I've not raced. Though that didn't stop me getting post concussion syndrome (still suffering over two years on from some symptoms) from a snapped-chain tumble.

    I think the problem with rugby (and heading in football) is the intentional proximity of the head to risk: it's integral to the game as played.
    I think therein lies the problem for this case. In playing the game you are aware off the likelihood of your head getting hit although reading Thompson's comments in the Guardian article it looks like the crux of the case is more the training side and how much contact they were put through outside of matches. I guess the counter argument is you have to train with the contact to avoid injury in a match situation. There is presumably a balance but in those early pro days no-one had worked out where it was.

  • I had Alistair Hignell as a history teacher. He played cricket for Gloucestershire in the summer, rugby for Bristol and England in the winter, along with his teaching job September to July. Different times.
  • johngtijohngti Posts: 1,116
    Pross said:

    There is presumably a balance but in those early pro days no-one had worked out where it was.

    I’m not sure they have now. As a coach, I have to regularly update myself on the concussion guidelines, but I only coach school rugby these days. The professionals focus so much on strength training that it’s inevitably going to be a problem; players are universally massive, far too much emphasis is put on the idea of winning the contact. Size/speed/strength alongside improved fitness means that this contact is full-on throughout a match. The consequence must be bad in terms of brain injury even if they’re mostly undetected. Training won’t help avoid that, laws can be adapted - and that’s the constant debate.
  • Dorset_BoyDorset_Boy Posts: 3,387
    Pross said:

    Not a rugby fan but is it not different at pro level?

    Oh yes definitely. Probably the biggest change when the game went pro is that the big players got fitter and faster whilst the fast players got bigger so now you have huge people piling into each other at pace. Have a look at footage from even the 90s and 13 stone would have been quite heavy for the backs whilst most of the forwards, other than maybe the back rowers, would lumber around the pitch. There was more space and fewer tackles too because the fitness levels were lower.

    Also, as eluded to in the article you linked to, they were suddenly doing it for hours a day 5 days a week rather than for a couple of hours twice a week plus match day.
    I was what would now be classed as a level 7 club player in my early 20s, pre the game going pro. I played sevens against British Lions and English & Scottish internationals and it was safe to do so. Now it probably isn't safe for a Level 3 club player to play against a Premiership player, let alone someone of my level.

    PBig forwards were 16 stone, big backs 13 stone. Now forwards are 20 stone+ and back 16+, and all quick with it.

    It's certainly not a sport I'd want my child playing at the top level, even though I love the game.
  • nickicenickice Posts: 2,439
    I tried rugby when I was at school and it turned out I was rubbish at it as I am at most sports. I also didn't like the physicality of it but appreciate some young people need that as an outlet. I don't remember any of my friends who played rugby really being aware of the risks and can CTE not only be diagnosed after death even if Iit's not the case here.

    I saw John Beattie saying that most players thought that if they hadn't been knocked out there wasn't any big danger. I also know that a friend of mine said that some rugby coaches he knows didn't want their children to play rugby.
  • nickicenickice Posts: 2,439
    Also worth remembering that dementia happens to non-rugby players (and that includes early-onset) dementia.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468
    johngti said:

    Pross said:

    There is presumably a balance but in those early pro days no-one had worked out where it was.

    I’m not sure they have now. As a coach, I have to regularly update myself on the concussion guidelines, but I only coach school rugby these days. The professionals focus so much on strength training that it’s inevitably going to be a problem; players are universally massive, far too much emphasis is put on the idea of winning the contact. Size/speed/strength alongside improved fitness means that this contact is full-on throughout a match. The consequence must be bad in terms of brain injury even if they’re mostly undetected. Training won’t help avoid that, laws can be adapted - and that’s the constant debate.
    This is where I see the case being decided. I assume the defendants will argue that they have continually updated guidance and amended the laws as data has become available to them (in the case of the Laws I suppose it comes down to what can be done whilst keeping the fundamentals of the sport intact).

  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468
    It will be interesting to see if Blazing Saddles has any comment on this as he has a player who has suffered several high profile head injuries in the family.
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 52,706 Lives Here
    FWIW the nfl which has big problems with concussion has limits on full contact practice, has ruled out various coaching practices and I think they limit the amount of concussions a player can have in a career - might be wrong here.

    Obviously the latter is fraught with conflicts of interest.
  • Dorset_BoyDorset_Boy Posts: 3,387
    Pross said:

    It will be interesting to see if Blazing Saddles has any comment on this as he has a player who has suffered several high profile head injuries in the family.

    I worry massively for him as he has been left on the pitch a number of times having clearly been knocked out, even when the protocols for removing a player from the pitch have been well established. I think he would be a player who could (successfully) bring a negligence case against the WRFU.
  • FWIW the nfl which has big problems with concussion has limits on full contact practice, has ruled out various coaching practices and I think they limit the amount of concussions a player can have in a career - might be wrong here.

    Obviously the latter is fraught with conflicts of interest.

    Brian Moore is now a solicitor and has added a few thoughts on it from his experience. Says it's a less strong case than NFL. See his Twitter for some very high level thoughts.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468

    Pross said:

    It will be interesting to see if Blazing Saddles has any comment on this as he has a player who has suffered several high profile head injuries in the family.

    I worry massively for him as he has been left on the pitch a number of times having clearly been knocked out, even when the protocols for removing a player from the pitch have been well established. I think he would be a player who could (successfully) bring a negligence case against the WRFU.
    Yep, the one I recall was where he got knocked out twice in the same game and the coaching staff seemed to miss the first incident.
  • ProssPross Posts: 25,468

    FWIW the nfl which has big problems with concussion has limits on full contact practice, has ruled out various coaching practices and I think they limit the amount of concussions a player can have in a career - might be wrong here.

    Obviously the latter is fraught with conflicts of interest.

    Alix Popham (one of the claimants) was discussing this earlier. I think the limits on contact in training is the big one that could be brought in, if it applies to everyone then no-one is getting an advantage over others from more training.

    Worryingly most of the symptoms of his condition he listed are things I regularly get that I jokingly pass off as me starting to get dementia e.g. getting half way through a sentence and forgetting the word I need, lacking concentration and being unable to follow a conversation in a busy, noisy environment (one of the reason I hate attending networking events for work) but they are also all things you could probably put down to getting older and / or stress so you'd feel a bit silly going to a GP to discuss them. He is a regular cyclist these days (lives near me) and was recounting a local ride where he got to a junction and couldn't remember where he was so had to consult an app on his phone.
  • bompingtonbompington Posts: 7,639
    I was a keen, but far from brilliant, rugby player at school (one of those schools disparagingly called "minor public schools") and I suffered occasionally as a 12 stone loosehead - I remember one particularly grim game when I came up against an England U16 prop who weighed something like 16 stone. We trained pretty hard and I was really strong - 17½ neck, complete with proper neck strengthening exercises, and I could do 100 press-ups in just over a minute.

    But I would have looked like a particularly scrawny scrum half these days, wouldn't I?

    Minor injuries were common, concussion happened a bit, though never to me. The worst injury I ever got has left a still-visible scar - around my left nipple, after my opposing tight head decided to try a nipple-cripple on me.
    Strangely enough he had to leave the field with a sore neck soon after*.

    Watching on TV still brings out a feeling like nothing else - getting on for 40 years since I played seriously and still I can't forget the adrenaline.

    None of my kids have ever shown any interest in Rugby but if they were - especially if they looked at all likely to reach pro level - I think I would have tried very, very hard to dissuade them.

    I love watching modern rugby, the sheer speed and power (although currently improved defensive tactics have strangled an awful lot of the fun) but it really looks unsustainable. I know that various ideas have been suggested, mainly with the aim of reducing bulk, but I don't think I've seen any that look likely to work.

    You have to wonder what the future holds for Rugby :(


    *Without exception, the only time in my life I have ever actually tried to hurt someone. And it was (almost entirely) achieved within the rules of the game.
  • Limit player, pack, and squad weight. reduce it year on year to give those that have made themselves freaks of nature normal again. Perhaps adopt league rules instead of union.
  • nickicenickice Posts: 2,439
    I'm sure I saw somewhere that a lot of young people in Glasgow who got involved in gang fights had brain damage when they were scanned for the purposes of a study. I've often had the suspicion that because we live longer now, we tend to notice these things more.
  • bompingtonbompington Posts: 7,639

    Limit player, pack, and squad weight. reduce it year on year to give those that have made themselves freaks of nature normal again. Perhaps adopt league rules instead of union.

    Might as well just say play touch rugby
  • bompingtonbompington Posts: 7,639
    nickice said:

    I'm sure I saw somewhere that a lot of young people in Glasgow who got involved in gang fights had brain damage when they were scanned for the purposes of a study. I've often had the suspicion that because we live longer now, we tend to notice these things more.

    But is that cause or effect?
  • rick_chaseyrick_chasey Posts: 52,706 Lives Here

    Limit player, pack, and squad weight. reduce it year on year to give those that have made themselves freaks of nature normal again. Perhaps adopt league rules instead of union.

    Might as well just say play touch rugby
    A brain scan a season seems reasonable for pros?
  • JezyboyJezyboy Posts: 454

    Limit player, pack, and squad weight. reduce it year on year to give those that have made themselves freaks of nature normal again. Perhaps adopt league rules instead of union.

    Might as well just say play touch rugby
    Limiting the pack/squad weight feels quite far away from touch rugby?
  • nickicenickice Posts: 2,439
    CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
  • TheBigBeanTheBigBean Posts: 11,843
    One of the things I have never understood about rugby is that you need to be a recognised specialist to play as a prop as there is a real danger from collapsed scrums. This seems sensible, but what do the specialist props do? Spend the whole time trying to collapse the scrum and get it blamed on the opposition.
  • johngtijohngti Posts: 1,116

    Limit player, pack, and squad weight. reduce it year on year to give those that have made themselves freaks of nature normal again. Perhaps adopt league rules instead of union.

    Might as well just say play touch rugby
    Not really. Limit subs for injuries, cut it to 4 subs per team and an hour in the big boys are knackered. More space = more fun!
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