Concussion is the biggest issue facing rugby across all levels

Ex-Irish hooker and popular pundit Bernard Jackman gave an insight into the problem in his recent column
Concussion is the biggest issue facing rugby across all levels

Ulster's Stewart Moore exits the pitch to get a concussion assessment recently. Picture: INPHO/Leah Scholes

THE thought of experiencing a concussion while playing rugby is terrifying for any player.

In a recent study undertaken by the IRFU and the Irish Injury Surveillance Group, concussion was the most common injury suffered by male players playing in the All-Ireland League.

The study was released earlier in the year to follow in the footsteps of the RFU by introducing a law change that would see tackling above the waist area band- a move designed to reduce the number of brain injuries but one that has been met with serious resistance in England.

709 players contributed to this study and out of this number 13% experienced a head injury while playing the game, which mostly took place in and around the tackle area.

In the men’s game, hookers and blindside flankers were the most dangerous positions on the field; accounting for 22% of all injuries between them.

Before retiring in 2010, the former international player now turned rugby pundit, Bernard Jackman had 25 of them. This is a staggering figure, but in 2010 when Jackman retired, there was little to no attention paid to head injuries.

At this time during Irish rugby, there was what me regarded as an ‘old school’ school attitude in the dressing room and on the pitch around concussions as it was rarely seen as a serious injury among players or coaches.

In a recent Sunday Independent column, Jackman remembers that in his last season as a player, his susceptibility to concussion increased massively. He quickly noticed that it was taking less contact to give him a blinding migraine or dizziness.

“The level of impact I was experiencing getting these concussions had decreased a lot, making me a lot more susceptible to them. Because I had so many concussions in my career, particularly towards the end, they didn’t really scare me.

“I was able to buy myself sometime during a game which gave me a minute or two to get me back to being able to run without being off balance."

Bernard Jackman, Clontarf, in action against Terenure's Philip Costello, in 2002. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE
Bernard Jackman, Clontarf, in action against Terenure's Philip Costello, in 2002. Picture: Pat Murphy/SPORTSFILE

Many of the 25 concussions which Jackman experienced in his final season with Leinster were not being even reported.

These days, coaches, pundits, and fans alike are also more tuned into these alarming hits that players sometimes experience on the field of play. Jackman describes his own attitude to concussion as a player “extremely naïve and stupid”.


It was a shared ignorance and naivety about player welfare that has led to today’s game being beset, like a dark cloud, by a series of lawsuits from ex-Irish players who claim to have had their health damaged by the game. Declan Fitzpatrick, David Corkery, who both played for Ireland, and Ben Marshall, who played for Leinster and Connacht, are seeking damages for injuries they claim they suffered while playing the game.

Jackman says that “most of these players are fellas I played with or played against and if I’m being honest the game wasn’t as physical when we played it so the fact, they are still suffering from concussion symptoms now is pretty scary.” 

Jackman wrote that he personally is not suffering long-term from any of his head injuries and is now enjoying commentating and speaking about at this issue from the commentary box.

He believes that the protocols within rugby are better and that the general level of understanding around concussion has improved.

“Things have gotten better in terms of awareness, but unfortunately the physicality of the game has increased massively as well. There has been a big increase in terms of the body height of the contact area, so that’s why we are seeing more head-on-head collisions, which is very worrying”.

These collisions are also a worry to current players who admittedly can’t do much to protect their brains going into tackles.

The game has changed massively since Jackman’s retirement and as he says himself there has been a "premium put on athleticism".

“When I played you didn’t have to be an unbelievable athlete, so that’s why now you are seeing bigger people in both the backs and the forwards which leads to greater hits in the contact”.

Jackman is just one of many who are increasingly worried about the long-term health implications of playing rugby at a high level.

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