Jonathan Thomas Reveals The Effects Of Head Injuries That Forced Retirement From Rugby

Former Welsh International Highlights The Danger Of Playing On At All Costs

07.10.2015

Specialist sport injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell have praised Jonathan Thomas’s decision to talk openly about his diagnoses of epilepsy and mild brain damage and urged rugby’s professional bodies to remove a dangerous culture of ‘staying on the pitch at all costs’.

In an interview with the Guardian, the 32 year old admitted that in a game against Gloucester back in 2013, where the epilepsy possibly emerged for the first time, he continued to play on despite struggling with memory loss after a collision.

He said: “I took an innocuous clash to the head with my team-mate and didn’t really flinch. But for the next 35 minutes my mind went completely blank. I couldn’t remember any lineout calls or even my role in the team.”

Jonathan was eventually replaced at half time after feeling sick but feels this is a key issue that needs addressing especially for a new generation of players who are currently being inspired by the Rugby World Cup. Jonathan said: “I don’t think players of my generation can change that mentality but it’s important for the coach of the under-nines to get the kid off rather than saying: ‘It’s the cup final, play on.”

Thomas was diagnosed with epilepsy and mild brain damage a year ago but he still played on last season, with medication controlling the seizures, to help Worcester reach promotion to the Aviva Premiership. He retired on medical grounds last month with concussion heavily in the news after fellow Welsh rugby star George North suffered four head injuries in five months.

Jonathan made it clear that the consultant who worked on his epilepsy said to him “that being knocked out is not as bad as the serious trauma that occurs because you shake your head and play on”.

Jonathan Thomas has made it clear that the last thing he wants to do dissuade people from playing a sport he loves but just that more should be done to educate players. He said: “If I’d known back then what I know now about head trauma I would have handled many situations very differently. I hope players and coaches can learn these lessons and change the way they react to head injury.”

Expert Opinion
“Rugby is a physical and very demanding sport which is enjoyed by millions of people around the world as showcase in the early weeks of the 2015 Rugby World Cup. However, when a former professional with the reputation of Jonathan Thomas speaks so openly about concussions and head injuries then it is important that his advice is heeded.

“Clearly a culture change is needed to ensure the next generation of rugby players understand the dangers of playing on after suffering an injury and the impact it could have on them in later life. Ultimately, if there is any question mark over a players’ safety, especially at youth level, then they should be removed from the game.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is a kick around in the park or a World Cup Final; nothing is more important that protecting the health and wellbeing of the competitors and ultimately preventing serious head injuries.

“Coaches have a responsibility to educate youth players and remember that sometimes a winning at all costs approach can be dangerous in such a physically demanding sport like rugby.

“There is plenty more work to do around concussions and head injuries but these revealing comments from a role model like Jonathan Thomas can only help to raise awareness and push for further improvements to safeguard the players.”
Stephen Nye, Partner