CON­CUS­SION

Rugby World - - PLAYER SURVEY -

train­ing load and whether play­ers would ben­e­fit from re­stric­tions.

It’s worth high­light­ing men­tal pres­sures as well as phys­i­cal ones. Look­ing at the Eng­land struc­ture from 2019-20 and those afore­men­tioned breaks, War­bur­ton in­sists it will still be hard to to­tally switch off in the mid­dle of an in­tense sea­son.

“There might be breaks but it’s a long time men­tally,” he said. “Even if you’re phys­i­cally help­ing a player, you’re not help­ing a player emo­tion­ally and men­tally. It’s a long time in com­pe­ti­tion.”

The sur­vey threw up sim­i­lar con­cerns. One player said: “The sea­son is too long men­tally and phys­i­cally.” Another said: “When you are on the fringe of your in­ter­na­tional side, do­ing the men­tal prep and play­ing lim­ited min­utes, then hav­ing to play in your break, it puts mas­sive strains on re­la­tion­ships at home.”

You couldn’t de­scribe Mar­ler as a fringe in­ter­na­tional – he played 59 times for Eng­land be­tween 2012 and 2018 – but the ef­fect play­ing for his coun­try had on his fam­ily life saw him call time on his Test ca­reer in Septem­ber. How did that man­i­fest it­self?

“I’d be at home in a pretty dark place, not talk­ing, not in­ter­act­ing with the kids or the wife,” says the 28-year-old. “My wife would say, ‘Any dan­ger of you be­ing here with us?’

“I’d be think­ing about go­ing away (with Eng­land) and hav­ing to leave Daisy and the kids. I’ve used the word anx­i­ety be­cause that’s how it felt. There’s a lot of pres­sure in any Eng­land en­vi­ron­ment and top-level elite rugby.”

He ad­mits that when Eng­land opened their au­tumn cam­paign against South Africa, he woke up wish­ing he was play­ing at Twick­en­ham. “But I quickly re­alised I didn’t miss it enough to do ev­ery­thing in or­der to get to game day – the three weeks be­fore­hand, the time away from home. I make sac­ri­fices for my club, for the team, but I also get to come home each night.”

Con­ver­sa­tions around men­tal health are a lot more preva­lent these days, not only in rugby but the world as a whole, with the sport’s player as­so­ci­a­tions pro­vid­ing sup­port pro­grammes in this area. How­ever, if changes in the game, such as the length of the sea­son or num­ber of Tests, would also help in this area, they must be ad­dressed. HERE HAS rightly been an in­creased fo­cus on head in­juries in re­cent years and there is un­doubt­edly far more aware­ness of the is­sue. Yet this sur­vey proves there is still work to do, with nearly a third of play­ers ad­mit­ting they’ve hid­den symp­toms in or­der to progress through the ‘re­turn to play’ pro­to­cols af­ter suf­fer­ing a con­cus­sion. “These de­ci­sions need to be taken out of the hands of play­ers,” says Omar Has­sanein.

Play­ers have raised fur­ther con­cerns about the Head In­jury As­sess­ment (HIA) pro­to­cols. One player said: “It needs to be changed. The list of word re­calls needs to be in­creased be­cause the same list of words are be­ing used and doesn’t prop­erly eval­u­ate re­call.”

Also, while 84% of those sur­veyed feel med­i­cal staff fol­low the HIA process to

Tthe let­ter of the law, oth­ers have shined a spot­light on the pres­sure ex­erted on medics – much like the pres­sure play­ers them­selves feel when not fully fit.

“Some al­low play­ers to get back to play­ing be­fore they are fully re­cov­ered, some­times due to pres­sure from clubs to per­form,” said one. A sec­ond added: “Scared of head coaches, they some­times move you through the HIA re­turn to play faster than re­quired.”

Mea­sures to re­duce the risk of play­ers suf­fer­ing head in­juries have been in­tro­duced, such as the in­creased sanc­tions for high and dan­ger­ous tack­les. Yet this has caused con­tro­versy of its own, with peo­ple, in­clud­ing some cur­rent play­ers, be­moan­ing the game ‘go­ing soft’ and ques­tion­ing cer­tain de­ci­sions as well as a lack of con­sis­tency in de­ci­sions and bans.

“Play­ers need to un­der­stand that the laws and rules are in place to pro­tect us,” says Ire­land full-back Rob Kear­ney. “To en­sure play­ers’ safety is the up­most pri­or­ity. If some­one gets a shoul­der in the head, re­gard­less of how it hap­pens, play­ers will be pe­nalised for that.

Play­ers need to ac­cept that.”

“Scared of head coaches, medics some­times move you through the HIA re­turn faster than re­quired”

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