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'I wouldn't like to be in his place in a few years, it's worrying'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Michael Bradley/AFP via Getty Images)

Geoffrey Sella, the son of the legendary Philippe Sella who retired from professional rugby after a series of debilitating concussions, has spoken about his long-term fears for Ireland veteran Johnny Sexton and others who suffer regular knocks to the head. The now 29-year-old played his final match in March 2019, quitting the sport after suffering four concussions in his final season at Massy.

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His retirement wasn’t easy and he emotionally told the story on Instagram last December of his post-rugby struggles. Eight months later, he has now given an extensive interview to Midi Olympique detailing the hardships he has suffered while also expressing hope that the likes of Ireland skipper Sexton – who was caught up in a head injury assessment controversy last month in New Zealand – don’t have brain health issues when they retire.

Sexton’s two-year stay at Racing 92 – from 2013 to 2015 – was pockmarked by concussions and his head knock history is now a regular French talking point, especially whenever he is involved in an Ireland match versus France.

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Sella has now touched on the Sexton topic in his French rugby newspaper interview, expressing fears for the health of the Ireland veteran. “I hear about it [his setbacks] because my friends send me the videos every time. I won’t even say it’s sad because I am no one to judge his case. But I wouldn’t like to be in his place in a few years, though maybe he will be fine.

“It’s worrying. It’s his choice (to keep playing), you have to respect it, even if I find this choice… bizarre. I think everyone sees danger differently. He… doesn’t deserve to end up with dementia, like Carl Hayman or others. It’s complex the concussions.”

Reflecting on his own experiences, Sella, who had two years at Biarritz before moving on to spend four Pro D2 seasons at Massy, admitted he was now in a far better place than last December’s depression-prompted outburst on social media. “I can say that the depression is completely behind me. I still have a regular follow-up because as soon as when you feel a little too good and let yourself go, you are quickly called to order.

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“There was anger because my medical file during the three years, it was really the s***. I was coming to a point where I was really down and I was exhausted. I felt like I was let down by organisations like social security.

“It’s a constant fight… and that is why I made these posts. But since then, I have had a big follow-up with a psychologist and a speech therapist and I have treatments. This is what allows me to get better little by little, but you must not let go.”

Aside from depression, Sella was also affected by neck pain, insomnia and behavioural and attention problems. “Every day, I went through several stages… and it led me to be a bit at the bottom of the abyss last winter.

“I didn’t really understand what was happening to me, I had mood swings, was tired all the time and anxious. I could not accept the fact that I could no longer play sports, let alone be a top athlete. I had become completely sedentary. The slightest effort was excruciating.”

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Speaking about his final months as a player, Sella added: “I had taken four knockouts. After that, I never felt like I was back to my full potential so I had a hard time going to practice. On the field, I had nervousness and absences in attention, especially in the defensive phases, and above all, I had mood swings.”

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