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Highlights on Off The Ball


'Would I change anything I did? I hope I would make better decisions'

As the issue of brain injuries among rugby players comes to the forefront of rugby discussions on...

As the issue of brain injuries among rugby players comes to the forefront of rugby discussions once more, Brian O'Driscoll is confident that the sport has made significant strides with regard to player welfare. 

Nevertheless, as he joined OTB Sports on Thursday evening, this reality scarcely softened the deeply unsettling realities that have set in for former opponents and teammates of his.

"When you've played with and against some of these players and you realise how they're suffering now," he explained, "it is pretty stark and the reality really sets in that some of us should feel very lucky that we've gotten away from the game relatively unscathed.

"To consider early signs of dementia in your 40s, that is pretty unthinkable. So, rather than worrying about future-proofing the game right now, your thoughts really go out to those players, their families, their kids and what the future holds."

On Tuesday, Steve Thompson, an English World Cup winner and former Lions teammate of O'Driscoll's, revealed the devastating impact that head injuries sustained during his career have had on his long-term health.

Forty-two years old and diagnosed with early stages of dementia, he is one of eight ex-players taking a case against the Rugby Football Union, the Welsh Rugby Union and World Rugby for negligence.

On Wednesday, Jamie Cudmore, formerly of Clermont Auvergne, joined OTB Sports where he discussed in great detail the circumstances which led to him taking the French club to court on similar claims that they had endangered him while he was a player there.

Acknowledging the severity of these issues, Brian O'Driscoll asserted that rugby is now a significantly safer space for players while adding that this remains a "work in progress."

While he considers himself fortunate to have retired from the game with his health in check, there was no shortage to the dangerous positions he found himself in during his career.

"I was probably diagnosed with concussion three times in my career," O'Driscoll stated, allowing that the contemporary understanding of what constitutes a concussion would likely have driven this number a bit higher.

"Knocked out as a teenager playing schools [rugby], that was the only time I lost consciousness. I was playing down in Musgrave Park and someone came on and asked me where I was. I told them that I was in Murrayfield.

"I had no sense of any of the calls. Andy Dunne was my out-half and he was making a call but I had no idea what that play was. In trying to almost bluff my way through, I was saying, 'Yeah, yeah, just hit me with the ball.'

"After a couple of seconds he realised that I was away with the fairies and he told me I had to go and I was subbed off."


Related reads:

'I was puking in the changing room and told to go out to play again' | Jamie Cudmore
Keith Wood on concussion | 'I find it really, really frightening to look at'


Some years later when O'Driscoll was representing the Lions in 2009, he highlights an occasion where another knock unfortunately went under the radar initially.

"In the second test," he explained of the tour to South Africa, "that was probably one of the more dangerous times. I got a bad knock early on in the game and then that second collision with Dani Rossouw reinforced what was already probably a concussion.

"I look back on that one and the stupidity from my own personal point of view of not protecting myself but I think the medics were oblivious to the fact that I had had a head knock because in the first collision I think Gethin Jenkins had smashed his face and the focus was with him.

"But there have been other circumstances where it was felt that there was missed concussions, the one against France in my second final year. It was another situation where the doctor was dragged away somewhere else.

"I think I got asked where I was and I knew I was in the Aviva. I was asked the score-line and I could see it over his shoulder and I kind of got away with it. He was very annoyed that that one slipped through the net and when I got concussed in the game against New Zealand that we lost in the last couple of minutes, I knew when I was coming off for a HIA he wouldn't let me on again.

"Any player will always want to soldier on with their teammates and never let them down. You don't think clearly when you're concussed."

Brian O'Driscoll 27 June 2009; Brian O'Driscoll is tackled by Victor Matfield and Bakkies Botha, South Africa. Picture: Sportsfile

A safer game now then it was during his playing days, Brian O'Driscoll nevertheless believes that is could be safer still.

Echoing the sentiments shared by Steve Thompson earlier this week, he would like to see the brain treated to more detailed screenings on a more regular basis.

Six years after he retired from the professional game, O'Driscoll appreciated that others will not leave in the same scenario as he managed to.

"Would I go back and change anything that I did? I would hope that I would make better decisions when I knew that I wasn't right," he admitted, "but like I said, you don't think clearly when you're out there and you get a knock to the head."

Listen to LIVE commentary of Munster v Harlequins this Sunday on Off the Ball, with Neil Treacy joined by Keith Wood at Thomond Park for the 5.30pm kickoff.

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Brian O'Driscoll Concussion Connacht Cte England France Heineken Champions Cup Ireland Italy Leinster Munster Rugby Scotland Six Nations Steve Thompson Ulster Wales World Rugby