The recent revelation by former players of the horrors of their head injuries could be the final nail in the coffin for what has been dubbed the ‘rugby’s gone soft brigade’.


Former England hooker Steve Thompson, 42, and Wales flanker Alix Popham, 41, were two players that revealed their diagnosis of early onset dementia following multiple head injuries and concussions throughout their careers.

The players’ distressing accounts of memory loss are a stark reminder of the collateral damage that comes with playing professional rugby, and the fears are that the list of players with such problems will grow. Thompson, for instance, has no recollection of being part of England’s 2003 World Cup triumph.

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However, as World Rugby have tried to make the game safer and introduce structures to prevent head injuries over the past ten years, their plans have often been met by a chorus of grumbles and complaints that the game is going soft.

But the view from masses of people online is that these chastening cases are irrefutable proof that the game has not gone soft. It was published in The Times last year that the average weight of Six Nations rugby players has increased by 25% since 1955, with the professional era obviously playing a role in the rapid increase in the size of players. The laws around the tackle may have become more stringent and draconian, but the ferocity of collisions have increased too.

The main point that is being made online is that even if some do believe the game is getting softer, the long term head injuries that players are suffering are a grossly unfair price to pay for allowing more reckless tackles.

Though the research and focus around head injuries has increased over the past decade, Thompson and Popham were part of the generation playing in the early years of professionalism that did not benefit from the measures in place to prevent these injuries. That is why they and a group of former internationals are planning legal action for negligence against the rugby authorities over brain injuries they have suffered, as rugby appears to be reaching a tipping point.


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