The issue of concussion in rugby has been receiving renewed attention following news that a group of former international players are planning legal action for negligence against the rugby authorities over brain injuries they suffered during their careers.

Among them is England's 2003 World Cup winner Steve Thompson (42), who revealed that he had no memory of participating at the tournament and was diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) in November.

Richard Boardman, who is representing the initial group of seven players that includes Thompson, says he believes that "up to 50 per cent of former professional rugby players could end up with neurological complications in retirement" and said "immediate changes need to be made to the game to protect the current generation and future players."

Speaking on the RTÉ Rugby Podcast, former Leinster and Ireland hooker Bernard Jackman discussed the ramifications the case could have on rugby.

"It's very difficult for players who have long-term side effects and I can understand the frustrations and the need to look for compensation," he said.

"I would say from a rugby point of view, it's another hammer blow. The game is already at a crossroads with Covid and now the whole concussion issue in terms of legal action and compensation which, if it is based on what happened in the NFL, would be a significantly large sum of money.

"I do think there have been huge strides made in terms of concussion awareness and that was my big focus when I retired was just to change that attitude in the dressing room and particularly for the youngsters to see the pro players not taking it serious and trying to stay on the field when obviously concussed. I do think there has been massive progress in that."

Jackman who retired in 2010 recalled that it was around that time that studies started to emerge about the issue of concussion in sport, particularly from the NFL.

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"Before that, it wasn't seen as acceptable to miss a game because of concussion or to not train, so I do think huge strides have been made but it's what [rugby's authorities] could have done in the time before they started to implement the safety protocols is what's going to be interesting," he said.

Donal Lenihan added that the risk of concussion was exacerbated by the advent of professionalism in the 1990s with the increase in contact training and the increasing size of players.

"Something had to be done and thankfully protocols are changing. Even Dylan Hartley, he made a big case in his book that there is too much contact in training during the week and that has to change," he said.

"It'll be very interesting to see what happens from here on in but I agree with Bernard, I have massive sympathy for the players and their families for the issues that they have been left with for guys who are in their early 40s." 

Lenihan cited former World Rugby medical chief Barry O'Driscoll for being a key figure in helping to raise awareness about the issue.

O'Driscoll joined RTÉ's Morning Ireland and he stated that the link between concussion and early onset dementia has been known for at least 10 years and that what studies are showing is that rather than bruising brain cells, concussion is killing those very nerve cells leading to dementia and other issues.

"The impact [between players] is huge now. Since it's gone professional and youngsters at certain places and gyms that take body building drugs become huge men aiming themselves at other players four stone lighter as fast as they can and the impact is huge and disproportionate and it's got to be one of the many things to be put right," he said.  

"There are certain things you can do in rugby. You can try and avoid this weight discrepancy, you can put less players on the field because it's getting too crowded at the moment and they are coached to run into each other, not away from each other into the gap.

"So you can make those changes but it is limited I'm afraid in rugby."

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