Newcastle Falcons fly-half Joel Hodgson says rugby is finally coming round to the dangers of concussion.
The RFU last week announced a compulsory education programme for every player and coach involved in the professional game, an issue with which Hodgson is well-acquainted having been knocked out earlier this month.
The 21-year-old suffered a bang to the face during Newcastle’s 9-7 defeat to Brive, revealing: “I have watched the game back on video and can remember everything up until that moment.
“When it came to watching the play after I got knocked out it seemed like an outer-body experience, and I have no idea how I got through it.”
In a game where players are often lauded for going through the pain barrier, the potential long-term effects of concussion are only now being fully acknowledged. The National Football League in America is currently taking a multi-million dollar settlement with former players through the courts, with the early onset of dementia one of the fundamental areas for concern.
Hodgson said: “It is something we really have to take seriously, and I completely agree with the RFU initiative in making all players and coaches sit a course on concussion.
“As rugby people we can all say it is admirable to watch guys strap up with stitches, and go back on with their ears hanging off. The crowds respect them for that, but when it comes to concussion it is a different scenario altogether. You are talking about your brain, and potentially your quality of life.”
Missing the Falcons’ 28-0 victory over Bucharest as a result of his injury, the fly-half added: “Gone are the days when you get knocked out and come back on the pitch when you come round, and if the medical staff know you are concussed then that is basically it.
“Your return to training is carefully monitored, because you can think you’re OK before you actually are. When you do return to training you go through your stages, like low-key intensity, agility, running or whatever. Providing there are no symptoms you keep moving up that chain.
“When I started getting back into full training after the Brive game and getting my heart rate up, adding together all the various facets, I did feel a bit spacey. It is one of those things you just can’t rush, but trying to be a typical rugby Mr Macho I did try and get back sooner than I probably should have done. It actually ended up setting me back, and I missed a game I realistically could have played in. I wasn’t quite right, and like all players I just needed to learn that it was all about waiting.
“Rugby players typically don’t have a lot of patience, but we need to learn.” Giving a first-hand insight into the symptoms and after-effects of concussion, Hodgson said: “It was a bit of a strange one, and when I first got the bang on the face it just felt weird. It was like I was not really in my own body, but as if I was looking at myself and seeing certain things happening.
“I was unable to focus on anything and, even though I had a few involvements after the knock, I was not in control of them. I was just going by instinct, and the irony is that some of the best kicks I struck all night were when I was concussed. I guess that is because I wasn’t really thinking about them.
“In terms of the week after, it is not a nice experience. I was glad when I was over the worst of it.
“After two or three days of missing training it becomes a bit of a drag. It is a hassle, and you just want to get back out there. But finally players have realised concussion is something you can’t mess around with.”
Meanwhile, Durham School are today battling for a place in the quarter-finals of the Natwest Cup, the renamed national schoolscompetition. The region’s only remaining representatives travel to Stonyhurst.