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Six Nations opening weekend raises further concerns around player safety

Several players left the pitch for HIA’s over the weekend, which saw Ireland flanker Peter O’Mahony sent off for an elbow to the head of Welsh prop Tomas Francis.

Discussions around player safety and the long-term effects of head injuries has been dominating the media ahead of the build-up to this year’s Six Nations tournament, following the announcement of a concussion lawsuit against World Rugby, the RFU, and the Welsh Rugby Union.

Back in December, former England World Cup winner Steve Thompson announced he would be taking legal action after he was diagnosed with brain damage- an injury he says is a direct result of playing rugby.

Following this weekend’s action it is clear to see why Thompson, amongst others, is calling for rugby’s governing bodies to take immediate action.

Wales vs Ireland saw four players suffer injuries to the head, one of which saw O’Mahony sent off, whilst a dangerous tackle by England captain Owen Farrell went unnoticed.

There was no question over O’Mahony’s red card, as he recklessly charged in on Francis who was on the floor having tackled Van Der Flier to the ground.

It is these types of incidents which pay as a stark reminder to the dangers of playing rugby. The question that remains is how can they be prevented? O’Mahony will no doubt face repercussions for his tackle but we must also look at incidents in which players are not penalised for potentially dangerous acts.

Owen Farrell has been criticised by many in the rugby community for the style in which he tackles, and against Scotland, he escaped punishment again as Scotland wing Duhan van der Merwe managed to ride the tackle.

You only have to look back to September of last year to see the impact of what poor tackling technique can do.

Injuries and rugby go hand in hand , there is no doubt about that, but it is clear that players put their lives on the line each time they step out onto the field to represent their club or country.

Whilst you can question whether rugby’s governing bodies are solely responsible for the injuries players suffer, both during and after their careers, we can be certain that changes in the law need to be made.

We cannot continue to accept that carrying out HIA’s is enough to prevent serious head and brain injuries given that a player can return from passing concussion protocol only to go out and sustain further impacts to the head.

Steve Thompson, and the other players who have spoken out since, will not be able to convince every rugby fan that changes to the law need to be made but it would be wrong to suggest that making the sport safer ruins the entertainment value of the sport and the integrity of the game.

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