A return to play at Monptellier by exiled England centre Alex Lozowski following the first serious concussion of his career was shaped by the recent testimony of Steve Thompson, who hauntingly revealed how rugby-related head injuries impacted on his post-playing life and triggered early onset dementia.
Lozowski is currently on a one-year loan deal with Montpellier before rejoining Saracens for the 2021/22 season. Having recently been sidelined, the 27-year-old midfielder returned to play in his French club’s defeat to Leinster last weekend and is expected to line-up against Wasps – one of his former clubs – at the Ricoh Arena this Friday night.
The five-cap England back suffered a Top 14 head injury against Bayonne on November 14 and was sent to see a neurosurgeon by Montpellier whose medical staff have worked closely with the centre who lives in a flat near the club’s ground in the city.
The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic have given Lozowski plenty of time in Montpellier to think about his situation in and to read the harrowing story of ex-England hooker Thompson and the testimony of other players who are also threatening major unions with legal action.
While desperate to play his part in helping Montpellier in the Top 14 and Heineken Champions Cup competitions, this first significant concussion gave Lozowski repeated headaches and made him acutely aware that only he really knew when it was right to return to rugby.
At the end of a sobering week for the game, @sam_sportsnews says rugby's day of reckoning has arrived but that rumours of its demise are premature…if it acts swiftly
A must-read column. https://t.co/cbm1xRBtGP
— The XV (@TheXV) December 11, 2020
Lozowski told RugbyPass: “Against Bayonne, I had a bang on the head which didn’t get better as quickly as I would have liked. I had been struggling and while in the last couple of weeks I started to feel better, all the news about Steve Thompson and those guys it made me think that I just can’t risk it.
“You have to take your time even though it was very frustrating not being able to contribute as much as I would like. I know you have to take care of your head and I got through the game against Leinster and the head feels fine.
“I’m hoping it is all behind me now and I can crack on with the season and make a difference with Montpellier. A concussion is unbelievably difficult and the one I had five or six weeks ago is my first bad one, so it was a new experience for me.
“As a player, you want to get back as soon as possible after an injury and the difficultly is that unlike an injury where you go for a scan and a doctor says it is going to be this number of weeks before you can play again, with your head some days you feel OK and others you feel tired.
“You ask yourself, am I feeling tired because I didn’t sleep well or because my head is not right? I do feel it is a grey area and with me, I wasn’t quite sure if I was right or not. In the end, I got headaches when I did come back.
“The lesson I learnt is that I must take my time and be 100 per cent sure because you cannot mess about with concussion. With all the stories coming from the ex-players you cannot rush these things and I will never try to come back quickly again from a concussion.
“Montpellier sent me to see a neurological specialist and the club are doing their best to take care of you but with head injuries, in my opinion, a lot of responsibility falls upon you as an individual to take ownership and control of how you are feeling.
“As much as every player wants to play you have to be aware of how you are and not rush back. The headaches are horrible and not like ones after a few beers. They are really nasty and you have to be on the ball to know where you are.
View this post on Instagram
“It’s down to you to get an understanding of where you are and I probably got it wrong with my first one. Rugby is only a small part of our lives even though it is so important, so when Steve Thompson’s news came out it brought home that here is a bigger picture.
“It was a wake-up call for me because being desperate to play you may try and cut a corner but you don’t want to end up in a bad situation in 20 years.”
Lozowski got the chance to experience Top 14 rugby with Montpellier while Saracens are operating in the Championship following their relegation. However, the pandemic has affected the league schedule, with Montpellier having to deal with a disrupted season to this point.
The England international is hoping to eventually get into a rhythm of playing alongside proven Test players such as French lock Paul Willemse and Springboks scrum-half Cobus Reinach, with the Wasps game a chance to bounce back after the 35-14 home loss to Leinster.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 13, 2020
That European defeat came hard on the heels of an away league win at Clermont, a significant achievement for the club which made the defeat to Leinster tougher to take.
Lozowski said: “I’m really looking forward to catching up with some old friends at Wasps and they have got off to a really good start while we had a tough loss. Quite a few games have been postponed and it has been disjointed with a three-week period without a match. We are looking forward to a run of games.
“The virus has disrupted things and it has been a case of training and then straight back to where you are living. I’m relying on all the technology to keep in touch with everyone and it has been a shame no one has been able to come out to see the games.
“We are playing La Rochelle in the Top 14 on December 27 and I have been in regular touch with Will Skelton (a former Saracens teammate). It will be different to be facing him rather than have him on my side!”
- Watch European Rugby on BT Sport. Click here to buy now
Montpellier, Top 14, Francia…
Jan Serfontein & Alex Lozowski S.L. pic.twitter.com/Q6wEXQ2tqx
— Javier Señarís Senra (@RutgerBlume) October 27, 2020
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now