Concussion has long been in the mainstream discussion about player welfare in rugby, particularly over the last few years, but a recent study in the UK found that playing just one year of the game can leave lasting impacts to the brain.
One player who knows that feeling all too well, and who has started to question whether he is suffering the after-effects of concussion from his playing days, is former Welsh international winger Shane Williams.
Speaking to the BBC, Williams recalled one particular incident where he suffered a concussion from a legal tackle during a match between Wales and South Africa in 2004.
That hit came from Bakkies Botha, from behind, which eventually led to Percy Montgomery’s game-sealing try in a closely fought encounter.
Although appearing innocuous at the time, Williams revealed that the tackle was “one of the biggest hits I’ve ever taken” throughout his career.
“It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel several hours later that I realised I wasn’t very well,” he said.
“That was one of the biggest hits I’ve ever taken really, I think.
“It was a blur getting changed afterwards – seeing the players, seeing family members in the stadium afterwards, I don’t remember – it was almost like I’d blacked out for a couple of hours and the next thing I’m in the hotel again sat in the reception thinking: ‘Gosh what happened there?’
“I’m always questioning: Has my memory deteriorated because of my age? I’m forever writing things down anyway – is that because of my age? Or is it because I’ve taken hits over the years?” he added.
The latest concussion study, published by the University of South Wales found that cognitive function, i.e. the blood flow to the brain, started to appear after a solitary season playing the game, placing more focus on the impact of concussion and head impacts in rugby.
One of the most concerning side-effects of this decreased cognitive function is the decline in the ‘ability to remember, formulate idea and perform mental gymnastics’.
The study was carried out on an unnamed team competing in the United Rugby Championship, formerly the Pro 14, with the paper also going on to say that the average player may be exposed to 11,000 ‘contact events’ in a single season.
World Rugby is continually working on ways in which to reduce the impact of concussion in the sport through its player welfare programmes, but it remains to be seen where this latest study will fit in to any future law changes.