October 22, 2021

‘Change needed to understand women’s rugby concussion risk’

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Nic Evans talks to Sky Sports News about her experiences of concussion in rugby and how she plans to help conduct research into the effects of head injuries across the game; says change to better understand risks in women’s game “can’t come soon enough”

By Rebecca Williams and Mathieu Wood

Last Updated: 31/03/21 10:33am

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Research into understanding the increased risk around head injuries in sport is ‘scary’ for ex-rugby players but vital to improve rugby, says retired Wales international Nic Evans

Research into understanding the increased risk around head injuries in sport is ‘scary’ for ex-rugby players but vital to improve rugby, says retired Wales international Nic Evans

Former Wasps and Wales flanker Nic Evans has called for more research to be carried out into the impact of concussion on female rugby players to lead the sport to “a better place so that it can continue”.

Recent research suggests female rugby players are at a greater risk of suffering concussion than men in the game – and the effects are more severe.

Evans said her experiences of head injuries in her nine-year playing career, including a concussive seizure sustained in a Wasps Ladies’ testimonial, has left her determined to help bring about a better understanding around sport head injuries.

Speaking to Sky Sports News, Evans, who retired in 2012, said: “If you look at all the research on concussion on females it is inconclusive whether or not there is the same length of time that is needed for the men and women’s game.

“There is some research that says concussion symptoms can last longer [for women].

“Are we putting women and girls at more risk by bringing them back too early? If our brains, physiology is different then that needs to be taken into consideration in World Rugby’s concussion protocols.

“I am just trying to be a voice really so I can feel that our sport that I absolutely love is a better place in the future.”

Evans called for the sport’s governing body World Rugby, who has said the welfare of all participants remains its ongoing priority, to be “brave” in implementing law changes based on the findings of research carried out.

The potential for long-term brain injuries within sportspeople is the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee.

Reflecting on the seizure she suffered at Wasps, which saw her lose her driving licence for a year, Evans said: “About a month later I was back training in pre-season ready to go for the next season.

“I probably played the next season with headaches, nausea, feeling pretty dreadful every single time I trained and played. I never told anybody how awful I was feeling.

“I had concussions throughout my playing career. I didn’t really think anything of it. I knew that the seizure was a big deal afterward. In retrospect, I looked back and thought that was my body telling me something pretty serious.”

Evans, who now works as a coach and lecturer in physical education at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, added it was not until she saw the 2015 film Concussion, starring Will Smith, that she became aware of the severity of head injuries.

“I turned to my partner and said ‘that could be me’,” said Evans. “I have had these knocks to the head…”

Evans, 43, said she “put her head in the sand” until she saw similarities in her experiences and former men’s England hooker Steve Thompson, who revealed last year he was unable to recall memories of his career, including winning the 2003 World Cup.

Thompson, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, is among a group of ex-rugby internationals suing the game’s authorities for negligence, citing repeated blows to the head as the cause for their diagnosis of the neurological condition.

“When I played, I didn’t realise the risks that I was putting myself under,” Evans said.

“I don’t think I fully understood that. All those concussion protocols… there was never any discussion about dementia at the time, these really significant long-term issues that we could have been putting ourselves at risk to.”

Evans said sport is “in the middle of a change” regarding hearing female athletes in the discussion around sport head injuries but admitted “it can’t come fast enough”.

Evans intends to work with a senior lecturer in biomedics at Swansea University, Elizabeth Williams, to research around what coaches can learn about head injuries.

“Now that I am a coach, I am really cognisant of [concussion],” she said. “I don’t allow my players to come back on if I think there is a head injury.

“I just wonder about coach education and [whether it] is being disseminated through the community game.”