Six more former players join concussion lawsuit against RFU, Welsh Rugby Union and World Rugby
Players join in fight against negligence from rugby's unions; Steve Thompson is suffering early onset dementia symptoms in his early 40s, with the former front-rower admitting he cannot remember any of England's matches at their victorious 2003 World Cup
Last Updated: 17/12/20 1:52pm
Six more former rugby union players have joined the legal action against World Rugby, Rugby Football Union and Wales Rugby Union over an alleged failure to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.
Rylands Law, who are representing the players, has delivered a letter of claim to the defendants. Although there are currently nine test cases, the firm is in contact with 130 former players, who have expressed interest in the claim.
Former World Cup winner, Steve Thompson spoke out last week, saying he was suffering from early onset dementia, aged 42. He described how he could not recall winning the tournament in 2003 and was now taking legal action.
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Other players who have joined the claim on Thursday include 30-year-old Adam Hughes, a former Wales U20 centre whose career was ended by a brain injury two years ago, and one-time England U21 Neil Spence, who is 44.
They join former Wales international flanker Alix Popham and fellow England flanker Michael Lipman as the test group of players to sue their former governing bodies.
Rylands Law alleges that the risks of concussions and sub-concussive injuries were "known and foreseeable" and lists 24 failures on the part of World Rugby, RFU and WRU.
"Last week's announcement about the condition of some of rugby's sporting greats has sent shockwaves around the sport. Yet, for many, it was inevitable," said lawyer Richard Boardman, who is representing the players.
"We know that senior figures in the game have been discussing the issue of head injuries since the 1970s, and yet here we are, more than 40 years later, with so many players, and at such an early stage in their lives, finding themselves in this awful position.
"I sincerely hope that World Rugby, RFU and WRU will now face up to their responsibilities."
The group of players have called on World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU to implement '15 commandments' to improve safety, which include limiting the number of contact sessions in training and better testing.
They have also urged World Rugby to set up a central database to monitor injury history, in particular head injuries, and for better aftercare to be provided for retired players, among other measures.
World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU have confirmed they have received a letter of claim from the solicitors representing the players and are now considering its contents.
"We have been deeply saddened to hear the brave personal accounts from former players," read a joint statement.
"Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority.
"As a result of scientific knowledge improving, rugby has developed its approach to concussion surveillance, education, management and prevention across the whole game.
"We have implemented coach, referee and player education and best practice protocols across the game and rugby's approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has been recognised and led to many other team sports adopting our guidance.
"We will continue to use medical evidence and research to keep evolving our approach."
Hughes: We must make the game safer
Hughes, the youngest player to join the legal action, believes more could have been done to ensure the safety of players during his career.
"I ended my career at 28 following a particularly bad concussion. It was just one head knock too many," he said.
"I was finding it more and more difficult to recover from each and every bang to the head. It snowballed really, at first it was the bigger concussions where I was completely knocked out that took me ages to recover from, then over the time, even the smaller ones started to have an impact. For the sake of my health, I had to bring it to a halt."
Hughes added: "Of course, I know people will say that I knew what the risks were. Yes, I did, but that misses the point completely.
"If there were opportunities to make the game safer, and I believe there were, then it was incumbent on those with power to do so. The game still has a very long way to go in terms of education about concussion."
Former Leicester, Gloucester and Rotherham forward Spence says he "lost count" of the amount of concussions and head injuries he suffered during his career.
"I used to judge how well I had played based on how fuzzy-headed I felt at the end of a game," he said.
"I have been told by people that when I played, I'd put my head where some people wouldn't even put their feet on a daily basis. Total madness.
"I first started to take note of my symptoms back in 2012 after a nasty bang on the head during a game which left me with a constant headache. My GP sent me for a CT scan, but there was no abnormality. She also put me on anti-depressants and beta blockers to help with the anxiety that I was feeling.
"Two-thousand-and-fourteen was a bad year. I was suffering terribly with mood swings, anxiety attacks, depression and anger issues. I felt like my head was going to explode. I would feel angry and frustrated at even the smallest obstacles.
"My fiance Sarah often says that I have lost my fun side. I used to be the life and soul of the party, but I feel that side of me is lost forever. Sarah will regularly find items in odd places in the house, I might put something meant for the fridge in the dishwasher and vice-versa. I also am prone to violent verbal outbursts and regularly forget what I am talking about.
"My speech has become slurred at times and Sarah and the kids complain I mumble and will sometimes stop speaking mid-sentence.
"The pressure of my personality changes grew too much for us during lockdown. Sarah works for the NHS, while I was at home doing home schooling for my son Zac, aged 11, and nine-year-old daughter, Millie. I was at breaking point and moved out for two months, but we're back together now fighting this diagnosis together.
"I still love the game of rugby, but if I had known I would have ended up feeling like this, I may not have played at all."