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HomeSportStudy says Rugby players' cognitive function can decline after one season

Study says Rugby players’ cognitive function can decline after one season

After one season of rugby players at a professional team saw a decline within both blood flow to the brain, and cognitive function, says new study

The University of South Wales research has followed a professional rugby team over the course of a single season, testing the team’s players pre-season, mid-season and post-season.

The study will be published in Wednesday’s September edition of the Journal of Experimental Physiology.

Researchers followed a team which plays within the United Rugby Championship.

They say that more research is needed into the long-term effects of brain trauma.

Their study, that has been seen exclusively by the BBC, found that over just one season of Rugby, a team of professional rugby players saw a decline in blood flow to the brain, as well as cognitive function, the ability to reason, remember, formulate ideas and performing mental gymnastics.

The paper also suggested that rather than only concussions; repetitive contacts, or sub concussions, sustained through playing rugby have caused the declines that can be seen in the players.

This comes after Award-winning radio presenter Lisa Shaw had died due to rare complications from the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, a coroner has now ruled. The mother-of-one was diagnosed with a blood clot and referred for specialist treatment but died on the 21st of May this year.

Former Lions and Wales player Shane Williams suffered head injuries himself while playing, and says the risk of a player getting injured increases when they are tired.

He has joined calls for a limit on replacements, because fresher players coming on to the pitch could cause more damage.

This new study comes as 200 former players – Welsh and English, male and female, professional and amateur – have begun legal action in tandem with Rylands Law firm, against the game’s governing bodies World Rugby, the Welsh Rugby Union and Rugby Football Union.

Some of those former players have been diagnosed with early-onset dementia, and they claim the authorities failed to protect them from the risk caused by concussions and head impacts.

World Rugby says it welcomes new research, adding: “World Rugby recently committed to double our investment in player welfare and new concussion research and initiatives.”

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Former Wales winger Shane Williams took some big hits and head impacts that affected him in his career, none more so than in a thumping but legal tackle by South Africa’s Bakkies Botha in 2004.

“It wasn’t until I got back to the hotel several hours later that I realised I wasn’t very well,” he told the BBC.

“That was one of the biggest hits I’ve ever taken, really, I think.

“It was a blur getting changed afterwards – seeing the players, seeing family members in the stadium afterwards, I don’t remember – it was almost like I’d blacked out for a couple of hours and the next thing I’m in the hotel again sat in the reception thinking: ‘Gosh what happened there?'”

When considering the impacts he’s taken over the years, Williams has questioned whether his brain has been affected by the game.

“I’m always questioning: Has my memory deteriorated because of my age? I’m forever writing things down anyway – is that because of my age? Or is it because I’ve taken hits over the years?” he said.

This comes after young people in Scotland under the age of 26 are now eligible for free NHS dental care treatment. The free dental care service will also cover those who had started a longer NHS course of treatment before their 26th birthday.

Head Injury Assessments, or HIA protocols, which now are commonplace on the field of play and are there to help decipher whether a player has had a concussion, did not come into force until 2015.

Williams feels if the same incident in 2004 happened now, he would have taken himself off the field knowing what he now knows.

“I think a big part of it is education – if I’d have been hit like that today, I’d have known straight away that something wasn’t right,” he said.

“People still ask ‘would I have changed the way I played, would I have not played?’ I wouldn’t have, because I played a game that I absolutely loved.”

Eve Cooper
Eve Cooper
I've been writing articles and stories for as long as I can remember and in the past few years I've had the fortune of turning that love & passion for writing into my job :)

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