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Ben Kay's existential warning for rugby union

By Kim Ekin
Brodie Retallick is helped from the field during the All Blacks' Rugby Championship clash with the Springboks (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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Former England second row Ben Kay has issued a grim forecast for rugby union if player safety issues aren’t addressed.


Kay was speaking on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight show which was broadcasting a special on brain injury in the game.

It’s an issue that administrators and unions have been wrestling with for years now, and while huge progress has been made, questions around how concussion is mitigated continues to be an issue that dogs the code.

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World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union are facing a lawsuit from in excess of 150 former players who are suffering from traumatic brain injury, early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

While t’s widely accepted that rugby has lead the way among contact sports, it remains a welfare concern for participants given the game’s innate physicality.

The issue was discussed at length by Kay and the Rugby Night panel, who hosted Professor Craig Ritchie, Director of Brain Health Scotland, and Dr James Robson, Scottish Rugby‘s Chief Medical Officer; who have launched a programme for former Scottish rugby players to be given a brain health MOT.

Scottish Rugby is offering the pilot service to ex-players as part of its commitment to their welfare. The brain health clinic will investigate in three stages, with the patient being seen by the clinician two to three times over a period of several months.


They believe that they could make a ‘huge impact’ on the future health of ex-players.

Kay – who won 62 England caps – believes concussion is the single biggest issue facing the game and believes rugby might not even be here in 50 years if it isn’t tackled.


“It is without doubt the biggest concern that rugby faces,” said Kay. “If mums and dads don’t think our game is as safe as it can be, they won’t let their little boys and girls go and start playing. Rugby will start to suffer and potentially might not be here in 50 years time.”


Kay also believes that there has be a ‘consensus’ among coaches about the amount of full-contact load players are exposed to in training at their clubs.

“If all coaches felt, right, ‘That’s what everyone can do [in terms of the number of contact sessions]. No other clubs are doing more than us’, they’d accept doing less contact training and coaches will get better in other ways. As soon as that happens, they’ll find other ways to move the level of excellence in their teams on. They’ll be saying ‘we can’t do that, but how do we make our players even better tacklers now, without doing full-on contact.'”

The panel also spoke to RFU Medical Services Director, Dr Simon Kemp, who is running a programme next season to offer every professional player in the Gallagher Premiership and the Premier 15s the opportunity of wearing special gumshields that measure data on head accelerations and give a measure of contact loads.

additional reporting PA




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