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.
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.
And there are still dinosaurs out there who claim the game has gone soft and can’t understand the fuss around high hits and concussion.
Over a year ago I tweeted that rugby was potentially facing a crisis. It seems that moment is closer.
— Philip Davies #FBPE ??????? (@Sosban_in_Exile) December 8, 2020
Rugby has serious issues around phrases like “Games gone soft” from former players working in media
It’s biggest issue is referees are too inconsistent. They need to be ruthless around head contact especially
Player behaviour when tackling needs to be improved greatly
— Neil Mulvey (@MulveyNeil) December 9, 2020
But of course “the games gone soft”. No. This is a serious reckoning. Fear the game won’t survive it, sincerely hope it does by changing
— Laurie M (@laurie_1M) December 8, 2020
Hopefully this will be a reality check for ‘the game’s gone soft’ brigade, including some well know former players. And some current elite refs need to sharpen their application of the HTF and not look for reasons to avoid cards
— Ian Thomas (@exiledholdfast) December 8, 2020
Shows why rugby needs to have a zero tolerance to contact with head/neck.
And also a massive blow to the Games Gone Soft brigade.ADVERTISEMENT
— Ross Barnett (@rbarnett08) December 8, 2020
Concussion/Dementia – I hope that we don’t shy away from information, research and analysis and that the power of that insight goes into making our game safer rather than killing it. Please don’t tell me “rugby’s gone soft” though.
— Arron Ludlam (@Arron1970) December 8, 2020
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