Players should start missing games to protect them from long-term brain injuries, according to the news that got earlier Wales Captain Ryan Jones has early-onset dementia, a leading safety campaign group for the sport has said.
41-year-old Jones, a 75-cap international and a member of the British and Irish Lions squad at the 2005 Tour of New Zealand, revealed that he had received a diagnosis of probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in December last year.
He is the latest in a string of high-profile former players to have been diagnosed with the disease and now Progressive Rugby – a non-profit rugby union lobby group – has called for action.
A statement said: “Ryan Jones is the latest high-profile player to reveal this devastating diagnosis but unfortunately he won’t be the last.
“We commend Ryan’s bravery in speaking out on behalf of the many other players in professional and amateur sports who are still coming to terms with the brutal impact a brain injury has on their lives.
“The focus now must be on learning the lessons and ensuring current and future players are protected from the same debilitating fate.
“It is time for everyone involved in the game to prioritize the well-being of each player. If that means protocols are playing it safe and players are rested and missing games, it’s a small price to pay for trying to protect the long-term health of its participants.
“We can and must make the game of rugby union as safe as possible so that future generations are not deprived of all the wonderful things it has to offer.”
In an emotional interview with The Sunday Times, Jones revealed he fears for his future.
He said: “I feel like my world is falling apart.
“I’m really scared because I have three kids and three stepkids and I want to be an amazing dad.
“I’ve lived like a superhero for 15 years of my life and I’m not. I don’t know what the future will bring.
“I am a product of an environment that is about process and human performance. I am unable to perform and I just want to live a happy, healthy and normal life.
“I feel like that has been taken away from me and there is nothing I can do.
“I can’t train harder, I can’t referee, I don’t know the rules of the game anymore.”
After being diagnosed with depression, Jones, who retired in 2015, said he has short-term memory problems and becomes forgetful.
“It scares me because I don’t know if we’re sitting here in two years and these episodes are a week long, two week long or permanent,” added Jones, who has stepped down from his post as performance director at the Welsh Rugby Union in October 2020.
“That’s the fear, that’s the part that never goes away. That’s the little bit I can’t shake.
“Every episode I have leaves a bit of a legacy as well. Everything we cancel, every relationship I poison or no longer have time for, just makes it that little bit harder to deal with. I don’t know how to slow this down, stop what I’m supposed to be doing.”