Junior Seau was the epitome of an NFL linebacker. A 12-time Pro Bowler for the Chargers, the Dolphins and the Patriots, Seau is the cautionary tale that rugby can no longer afford to ignore.
American football has already experienced rugby’s incoming post career issues with traumatic brain injury (TBI). The next chapter in the concussion narrative is a spate of domestic violence incidents by ex-players suffering from undiagnosed Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
"And to presume otherwise would be to repeat the mistake of assuming you had to be a boxer to get CTE," said Dr Willie Stewart, a leading expert in TBI, four years ago. "[HEAD BLOWS] arrive with as high, if not higher frequency, over a career in rugby than American football."
After the violence come the suicides that will lead to documentaries like League of Denialas - children and wives explaining how their father and husband shot himself in the chest so his brain could be preserved for science. Junior Seau pulled the trigger in 2012 aged 43.
Then comes the multi-million-euro settlements alongside a reduction of contact in training as doctors attempt to examine swollen brains, armed with a set of questions (that players will memorise) in a 15 minute window.
Despite what Eddie Jones stated last week, rugby is not a safer sport. The players are leaner, stronger, faster. Never forget that former All Black John Kirwan recently called for a removal of red cards for head shots.
Caelan Doris was concussed twice last season. Last week James Ryan left the field against Scotland for a Head Injury Assessment. Ryan was deemed to have recovered inside seven days. These young, super talented athletes trust that they are receiving the safest possible treatment for brain injuries despite Dr Barry O'Driscoll and Dr Stewart both stating since 2016 that the HIA is deeply flawed.
World Cup Draw
Good news, Ireland cannot lose to Japan, France or Australia in the pool stages of the 2023 World Cup. Today's draw in Paris will lump Andy Farrell's men in with one of the top seeds - South Africa, New Zealand, England or Wales. Not so fast on praying for Wales as they love an Irish scalp in the big tournament. Scotland, Fiji, Argentina and Italy make up band 3 so one of these nations will also be in Ireland's pool.
The juicy information though will be the schedule that World Rugby release early next year. You see, at almost every tournament the nations without a seat at the top table have been screwed by the turnover between matches. This prompted Dan Leo - the former Samoan lock turned creator of Ocean's Apart documentary that highlights the colonial nature of the game - to pen an open letter to World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont seeking a fair shake for the countries that have been held under water since the sport turned professional in 1996.
“The opportunity to do the right thing is right in front of you and your colleagues,” writes Leo. “As you know this practice of bodging together the tournament’s schedule, by committee, beyond scrutiny and subject to backroom negotiation between interested and conflicted parties, is very unusual . . . it is not a practice followed by any other global scale tournament of the prestige and integrity which rugby measures itself against.
“This should be understood for what it is: the strongest handicapping the weakest.”
Come on Bill, do the right thing, give the strongest squads the least amount of days between matches.
Aphiwe Dyantyi and the friend’s juice
The longest running doping case in rugby has an end game but it is far from over. Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi has received a four year suspension after testing positive for methandienone and methyltestosterone.
The World Rugby Breakthrough Player of 2018 allegedly sipped from a friend’s bottle during a gym session in June 2019. That “friend” needs to come forward and reveal what was in the bottle, right?
The true source of the doping is so rarely uncovered. World Rugby could avoid the avalanche of criticism coming their way in 2020 by investigating the processes that led to the South African Institute for Drug-free Sport (SAIDS) taking so long to reach their conclusion.
Gert van der Merwe, the player’s agent, expressed shock without actually reading the full decision (due to be released today).
“If it were up to me, we would definitely appeal,” van der Merwe was quoted by Rapport. “The problem is that there are costs associated with it. Aphiwe has not received a salary for the last 18 months and we’re trying to see what we can do. I believe the decision is wrong. Aphiwe can’t believe it. We were starting to get ready to play again.”
What a strange observation. If ever transparency was needed to protect rugby’s reputation it must come from the SAIDS report.
By the Numbers
4 - year suspension for Aphiwe Dyantyi which ends before the 2023 World Cup.
Word of Mouth
"I can't remember it. I've got no memorabilia. I've got no feelings about it. You see us lifting the World Cup and I can see me there jumping around. But I can't remember it." Steve Thompson (43), the former England and Lions hooker, on winning the 2003 World Cup.
"I could look at Steph sometimes. And she says it's like I'm a complete blank. And she'll go: 'I'm Steph.' The name's gone. Gone." Thompson on occasionally forgetting his wife's name due to early onset dementia.
"I don't think that the game at the moment is unsafe." England coach Eddie Jones.
"The HIA is opinion based diagnosis. This is equivalent to winding the clock back before blood tests and tracings for heart attacks and basing diagnosis of myocardial infarction on a story of chest pain and a doctor's opinion only." Dr Willie Stewart in 2016.
"The Head Injury Assessment is totally flawed. It is designed for players who have no signs, no symptoms or no suspicion of concussion." Dr Barry O'Driscoll also in 2016.
"Limerick was the home of Munster rugby for me growing up. The year they won the Heineken Cup - how many thousands of people on O'Connell Street - that's what I grew up watching. What Limerick GAA have done in the last 10 years - don't just think it came with the success of the last three years - with the underage academies, any 12, 13, 14 year old wants to get into that set up knowing how good it is. Hurling is now number one in Limerick." Shane Dowling, the former Limerick hurler.
"I'm just completely let down by the whole situation as a brown person playing the sport." Simon Zebo on the handling of the Matera racism tweets.
"Joel Jutge, EPCR's Head of Match Officials, decided that due to the personal nature of some of the criticism levelled at Andrew Brace following last weekend's Autumn Nations Cup match between England and France, it was prudent on this occasion to make the appointment changes." EPCR deem it prudent to remove Brace from the Toulouse v Exeter match.
"We are not refocusing on the Premiership just yet but we will be resting some of our players next weekend and giving some of the youngsters a go." Northampton coach Chris Boyd waves the white flag before travelling to Dublin this weekend.