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Game laws may change to lower the risk of concussion

By Jonathan Bradley

World Rugby's chief medical officer has said that the game's tackling laws may have to be altered in an effort to reduce the risk of concussion.

In a BBC Panorama programme, 'Rugby and the Brain: Tackling the Truth', on the issue of head injuries last night, Dr Martin Raftery contended: "There's no doubt that the biggest area that we think, that we know where concussion is going to occur, is in the tackle, so that will help us to look at the tackle and see what we can do to make it safer."

When asked if this may require a change in the laws of the game, he replied: "It could. I think that my job is to identify risk and then look for solutions for the lawmakers to make the changes that will bring about protection of the athlete."

In 2011, Carrickfergus Grammar pupil Ben Robinson became the first person in Northern Ireland to die from second impact syndrome, when a collision causes swelling to the brain before it has been given sufficient time to recover from a previous blow.

Aged just 14, Ben collapsed near the end of his school's game with Dalriada having been momentarily knocked out at the start of the second-half.

Highlighting studies conducted at grassroots level, Dr James Robson, the Scottish Rugby Union's chief medical officer who has also served on six British and Irish Lions tours, stressed the need to spread word of the potential risks.

"Two seasons ago we had a real push, a real initiative - we educated people that only by knowing what was happening with injury could we make a significant difference," he said.

"I strongly believe that we do need to look at the laws of the game and the way that it's played."

The issue was in the news again last week when former Wales flanker Jonathan Thomas, who won 67 Test caps between 2003 and 2011 and featured at two World Cups, was forced to retire at the age of only 32 after being diagnosed with epilepsy thought to have been brought on by multiple head traumas.

Thomas 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.

"I still think it's the players who need more education about the warning signs and getting out of that 'digging in' mentality."

In America, more than 4,500 former NFL players who say the league hid the dangers of head trauma have sued the organisation.

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