Three former rugby players, including two former internationals, have lodged High Court proceedings against the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) for damages, and more players are expected to do so shortly.
David Corkery and Declan Fitzpatrick, who both played for Ireland, and Ben Marshall, who played for Leinster and Connacht, are seeking damages for injuries they claim they suffered while playing the game.
The cases are part of a wider series of lawsuits that are being taken in the UK and here alleging that rugby players were inadequately protected from the possibility of concussion leading to long-term serious injury.
Up to 250 cases are expected to be taken in both jurisdictions, according to solicitor Richard Boardman of Rylands Legal in England. He would not speculate as to how many cases would eventually be taken in this jurisdiction, where the players are being represented by Maguire McClafferty solicitors of Dublin, who are working with Mr Boardman and Rylands on the cases.
Mr Corkery, who in an interview earlier this year said he suffers from headaches and that some of the brain scans he has undergone have produced results that “have not been great”, is suing Munster Rugby, the IRFU and World Rugby Ltd.
Mr Fitzpatrick, who retired in 2015 because of concussion-related injuries, is suing Ulster Rugby, the IRFU and World Rugby.
Mr Marshall, who retired in 2017 at the age of 26 due to concussion-related injuries, is suing Leinster Rugby, Connacht Rugby, the IRFU and World Rugby.
Mr Boardman told The Irish Times that the “real crisis” with rugby was the length of the season and the cumulative effect of repeated blows to the head.
“Every time you tackle, carry, ruck or maul, you are going to get bangs to the head, just as you do when you head the ball in football. In itself, one of those is a mild thing. But because these guys play so much, for so long [each season], guys are retiring with tens, or hundreds of thousands of those sub-concussive blows, which is what causes the CTE.”
CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a progressive brain condition thought to be caused by repeated blows to the head and repeated episodes of concussion.
Mr Boardman said that the long season meant players’ brains don’t get time to rest and recover from repeated small blows.
“Until rugby ultimately reduces the high dosage level of these sub-concussive blows, the sport is facing an existential crisis.”
In his interview with RugbyPass earlier this year, Mr Corkery said that when he played he “had no respect for my body. I got knocked out. I woke up and a few seconds later I was playing again.”
“That’s not right. That shouldn’t have been the case. Yeah, you can say ‘that’s the way it was’. True. But it’s not the way it should have been. We should have been better advised.”
At the time of his retirement in 2015 Mr Fitzpatrick spoke about suffering concussion when playing rugby.
“My family life was beginning to suffer and when I went home I was trying to hide it from everybody. As the season played out I couldn’t get on top of it and became a bit depressed,” he said.
A spokesman for the IRFU said people in rugby had been moved by the personal accounts of former players as reported in the media.
“Player welfare is of paramount importance to the IRFU and we are constantly reviewing safety protocols for all players,” he said. “Our approach, based on scientific evidence, involves a commitment to ongoing education, monitoring and application of safety protocols across the game, including proactively managing elite player game time with a focus on injury prevention and oversight.”
On the cases that have now been lodged in the High Court, the spokesman said it would not be appropriate to comment directly as this was a legal matter “which will now be handled by our insurers”.
A request for a comment from Maguire McClafferty solicitors met with no response.