The Rugby Football Union is coming under mounting pressure to publish its most up-to-date head injury data in light of the concussion negligence allegations that have rocked the sport.
The annual reports, which are pivotal in providing baseline data to assess trends in injury risk, were expected to be published in January this year, but have been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Concussion was the most commonly reported injury in the men’s and women’s Premierships during the 2017-18 campaign, accounting for a fifth off all match injuries in the men’s game with 140 in matches, down from 169 in 2016-17.
Head injuries also accounted for nearly a fifth of all injuries in the league’s inaugural 2017-18 season. That figure, however, is thought to be higher, as only six out of 10 clubs submitted data to the injury surveillance report in the inaugural 2017-18 Premier 15s season.
Luke Griggs, the deputy chief executive of brain injury association Headway, said it was crucial both the men’s and women’s game had access to the latest concussion trends.
“Modern-day rugby is very data-driven,” said Griggs. “This can be helpful in understanding the nature of contact and identifying injury trends, which can in turn play a useful role in informing decision making, both in terms of tactics and also injury prevention.”
In a statement, the RFU said it takes player welfare “incredibly seriously”, adding: “As a result of our focus in welfare and specifically concussion, we have been able to develop our approach to concussion surveillance, concussion education, concussion management and concussion prevention across the whole game.
“The introduction of the Premier 15s three years ago and the 28 full-time England contracts has allowed us to improve concussion surveillance, education and management specifically within the women’s game.
“We will continue to work with World Rugby and external academic institutions and other sports to develop targeted research programmes across all areas of the game.”
The body maintains the number of concussions in the Premier 15s from the 2017-18 season is “consistent” with those from the same period in the male professional game. There have, however, been growing calls to resist making comparisons between men’s and women’s rugby.
Groundbreaking research carried out by Swansea University — which is due to be published later this month — has found that female rugby players are more likely to be concussed from hitting their heads on the ground rather than in a heavy collision. The latter has long been attributed to concussions in the professional male game.
On Wednesday, 2014 England World Cup winner Kat Merchant became the second former player from the women’s game to voice concerns about living with early onset dementia.
Merchant retired on doctors’ advice at 28 after experiencing 11 reported concussions in 14 seasons and, while she has lower cognitive capacity, is not considering joining the lawsuit filed by eight former male professionals against rugby’s authorities.
“My main concern is, am I going to get early onset dementia? If I do, how am I going to earn money, how am I going to get support, who’s going to put me in care?” Merchant, now aged 35, told the BBC.
It follows revelations from former Wasps Ladies player Nic Evans, who last week told Telegraph Sport she had experienced “hundreds” of concussions during her nine-year career and is now concerned about developing early onset dementia.