Different rules should be enforced in underage and amateur rugby to ensure players are not exposed to the same risk of injury and concussion as professionals, according to a former Ireland and Lions player.
Fergus Slattery said the risk factor nowadays was “incredibly higher” than it was during his career from the 1960s to the 1980s when players were smaller.
"The amateur game should have its own sets of rules, and the pro game should have its own sets of rules in rugby union," he told a group discussion at a conference organised by Trinity College Dublin.
The panel, which included All-Ireland winning Tipperary hurler Seamus Callanan and Ireland's first female professional boxer Christine McMahon, also heard from retired Ireland rugby captain Keith Wood who said he struggles to watch games with high rates of attrition.
“It needs to get to an acceptable level of risk, and what is acceptable? For me I’m struggling a little bit when I’m watching rugby and there’s two or three or four guys in an international rugby game going off with concussion or an interpretation of concussion. That can’t be acceptable,” he said.
Recalling a number of concussions he suffered during his own playing career, Wood said he still cannot remember anything from a European Champions Cup game at Musgrave Park due to a heavy hit he received despite putting in a man-of-the-match performance and scoring two tries.
Callanan recounted his own experience of being affected by splitting headaches and mood swings in the days after sustaining a concussion in his side’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway in 2015, and said a stigma still persists around the topic across the lower levels of the GAA.
“I do know if I mention concussion to somebody back at my club or at that level, people just don’t understand. There’s almost an element of ‘if you go off now you’re soft sure, you haven’t the leg broke, you’re not being carried off the pitch, what’s wrong with you?’”
Consultant neurologist Dr Colin Doherty outlined his involvement in a new group attempting to draft blanket guidelines for the treatment of head injuries in sports.
The National Clinical Effectiveness Committee will bring together a range of multidisciplinary healthcare professionals who between them will aim to develop a set of best-practice guidelines over the next two years, which will then be presented to sporting organisations for agreement.
This follows recent calls from concussion advocacy group Headway to introduce universal protocols for dealing with instances of traumatic brain injury in light of a spate of high-profile on-field deaths linked to so-called Second Impact Syndrome.