BRIAN O’DRISCOLL TODAY admitted that his generation of players are ‘guinea pigs’ for the ongoing study of concussion in rugby.
O’Driscoll made his international debut four years after the game was made professional. So the Ireland and Leinster centre, now in his final year as a player, feels that proper conclusions cannot be made until players of his vintage are long removed from the contact zone, which is seeing more powerful impacts as the years go on.
Speaking on Pat Kenny’s new morning show on Newstalk, the 34-year-old was asked if recent studies linking concussion suffered in sports such as rugby to early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s were a concern.
“It is. And I guess, to a degree, in the professional era we’re somewhat guinea pigs because we haven’t had the progression of people going going through their careers and getting to old age.
“We don’t know the down side to the escalating collisions,” O’Driscoll said.
However, Ireland’s record try-scorer not appear overly perturbed by the idea, philosophically adding that it was a role that simply had to be filled.
“It’s something to be very mindful of. It can’t stop us from living our lives the way we are. Someone has to be the guinea pigs and I guess we are, but at the same time there is huge emphasis being put on the safety of players too which is of paramount importance.”
O’Driscoll’s comments come less than a week after America’s National Football League (NFL) agreed an $765 million deal to compensate thousands of retired players suffering long-term effect of concussion. Pressure is rising on the governing bodies of rugby to ensure that the situation in union does not reach such a crisis level.
O’Driscoll was at the centre of a concussion storm in the Six Nations this year when he returned to the field after a heavy blow, only to get his tackling technique all wrong minutes later when lining up trundling prop Vincent Debaty. The tackle made him a concussion doubt for the final game of the championship, but he played in the subsequent defeat to Italy.
“I’ve actually only been knocked out once; as a schoolboy down in Musgrave Park – as in lost consciousness for 5, 10 seconds – any time I’ve been concussed it’s been head spinning or headaches, though I’ve never really felt unwell or been fully knocked out.”
While the legendary stalwart of Irish rugby believes the addition of the concussion bin last season has been inconclusive, he says the best way to combat the problem is to place to place the trust and power in the medical staff already in place.
“I keep going to back to this, faith has to be put into the medics to make the ruling. Players are always going to want to get back on the pitch.
“The adrenaline is in their bodies charging around and you don’t want to ever be seen to be letting your team-mates down. So, that’s a given – definitely, in the case of medics: if in any doubt, we have to go on the side of caution and refuse entry back onto the pitch.”