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Jonathan Thomas: Players need educating on dangers of head injury

Published 06/10/2015

Jonathan Thomas, front, retired from rugby after being diagnosed with epilepsy
Jonathan Thomas, front, retired from rugby after being diagnosed with epilepsy

Former Wales forward Jonathan Thomas has called for rugby players to be fully educated on the dangers of concussion and head injury.

Thomas retired from the sport last month aged 32 after being diagnosed with epilepsy, thought to have been brought on by repeated head traumas during his 14-year career.

Upon making the announcement, he said: "I've learnt a huge amount during the last few months about head trauma, seizures and epilepsy, and it would be great if I could help out in some way."

That may take the form of working with charities to raise awareness of an issue which has been brought into focus by recent incidents involving two of his countrymen.

Wales wing George North played on after two head injuries against England in the Six Nations and was then knocked unconscious while playing for Northampton against Wasps, while full-back Liam Williams was knocked out in the World Cup match against England.

Thomas told The Guardian: " I think the players need to be educated about the dangers of playing with head trauma. They take a bang to the head and think: 'I'll play on because I've two days off after the game'. That's doing serious damage.

"I don't mean the concussions George North went through or what happened to Liam Williams against England. That's a no-brainer where he gets knocked out and taken off. It's the bangs you get head-to-head or the back of your head hits the floor and you play on even though you know you're not right.

"The George North incident at Northampton looked horrific. But when that happens the brain shuts down and you have a period of recovery. The consultant who worked on my epilepsy said being knocked out is not as bad as playing on with trauma.

"I've been guilty of staying on the pitch at all costs. It's the gladiatorial mindset and it's difficult to shake. You need that mindset as a pro to play on despite niggles and injuries but if I'd known back then what I know now about head trauma, I would have handled many situations very differently."

One such situation arose when playing for Worcester against Gloucester in December 2013, when Thomas suffered after-effects from a head injury early in the game but played on until half-time.

"I took an innocuous clash to the head with my team-mate and didn't really flinch. But for the next 35 minutes I went completely blank," the then club captain recalled. " I couldn't remember any lineout calls or even my role in the team. I was getting deja vu-type flashbacks.

"At half-time I felt sick and came off. For three weeks I kept failing my return-to-play protocols. Eventually I came back and played the remainder of that season without obvious problems."

Thomas played for Swansea and then the Ospreys in his homeland before joining the Warriors in 2013. He won 67 caps for Wales between 2003 and 2011, scoring seven tries.

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