Around 10 former players joining the concussion lawsuit each month

Over 10 rugby players come forward each month to join the concussion lawsuit against World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU headlined by England World Cup winner Phil Vickery and ex-Wales star Gavin Henson

  • The claimants blame the sport for brain injuries after repeated blows to the head
  • High-profile figures Phil Vickery, Mark Regan and Gavin Henson among players
  • The case will be brought against World Rugby as well as the RFU and the WRU

The number of former rugby union players joining legal action against the game’s authorities over head injuries is growing by an average of 10 each month, Mail Sport can reveal.

At the start of December, England’s 2003 World Cup winners Phil Vickery and Mark Regan and ex-Wales centre Gavin Henson were high-profile figures among 207 new names revealed in the concussion in rugby procedural hearing held at the High Court in London.

They joined the likes of Alix Popham, Carl Hayman, Steve Thompson and Michael Lipman in lodging legal action against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union after suffering neurological problems such as early onset dementia, motor neurone disease and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy which they claim are a result of their playing careers. 

The players say they weren’t told rugby would cause such problems.

In total, there are now approximately 320 ex-rugby union professionals, semi-professionals and amateurs and 160 from rugby league involved in the legal action.

Phil Vickery was part of England side to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy in Australia in 2003

Former England hooker Mark Regan is also involved in the concussion lawsuit against World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU

That number is only increasing. Since the High Court hearing on December 1, 25 former players have come forward to request to join the process. 

To be officially classed as part of the action, the players have to undergo a series of neurological scans and interviews and additional testing with an independent clinical neurologist to ascertain whether or not their brains are damaged. 

Only those medically shown to be suffering with brain injuries can be officially added to the litigation.

Popham, the former Wales forward, was among the first of the former players to reveal his suffering with early onset dementia in 2020.

‘This is an ongoing issue for the sport we love to deal with. It’s not going away. We want to make rugby safer for future generations of players and also the players of today,’ he said.

‘Unfortunately, we have a large number of former players who are suffering with neurological issues that we believe are a direct result of their rugby careers. That number is increasing month by month. We have players contacting us constantly expressing concerns over their health.

‘That happens more after a story is in the news – like it was at the start of December with the High Court hearing – but we are seeing the numbers grow and grow.

‘There are around 20 to 30 ex-players who are still involved in the game who I’ve talked to and they have told me they are scared to get tested. My message is it’s better to know.

‘For players to officially join the litigation they have to go through a series of stringent medical tests but at the moment I think rugby is paying lip service to the problem.’

Popham set up charity Head for Change to raise awareness of brain injuries and support ex-players who are suffering with neurological impairments.

After the High Court hearing, World Rugby, the RFU and the WRU said the players at the heart of the litigation must not be forgotten and that they ‘care deeply about their struggles.’

They added they couldn’t reach out to the players for legal reasons but said their welfare was ‘our top priority’. Richard Boardman of Rylands Garth represents the players involved who must prove the governing bodies were negligent in their handling of brain injuries to be successful in the legal process.

At the High Court it was noted there was a ‘gaping hole’ in the evidence supplied by the players’ legal team despite them submitting over 5,000 pages of supporting medical documents.

‘The argument there is a sense of opportunism out there surrounding this litigation isn’t one I believe in. For every player to join the process, stringent medical testing is required,’ Boardman said. 

‘Our work on this action is constant and we’ve put a lot of time and effort in to push it forward. As things stand, we have not provided supporting documents for just four players.

‘One of the reasons for that is our lead neurologist has recently been involved in a trial but we have provided supporting documents for those four claimants just not their condition and prognosis reports. 

‘We have provided summaries of their cases. It is misleading to suggest there is a gaping hole in our evidence.

Former Welsh Rugby poster-boy Gavin Henson was also named as a claimant at the Royal Courts of Justice

‘We have submitted approximately 5,000 pages of supporting medical evidence and case summaries. 

‘In contrast, the defendants have failed to provide even a letter of response. The only documents provided – by just one of the three defendants – were ordered by the court.

‘We believe one in two elite level players will have some form of neurological impairment. That’s the scale of this. The sport is as dangerous as ever.

‘Earlier this month, rugby league recommended 44 changes to its sport to make it safer. We don’t see that in union but we want to force change in the sport to ensure that happens.’

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