Every year rugby players are forced into retirement because of concussions at all levels of the sport. Here at Concussion Pro 1 we fully support the right of any individual to get out there and test themselves, but, at what point should an athlete call it a day over brain health...
Someone in the middle of this dilemma is Leigh Halfpenny. The Welsh full-back and winger is still only 29, a young man in his prime, but his career has been plagued by head injuries that now appears to be catching up to him. Currently he is on an extended leave of absence due to concussions that's already seen him miss weeks 5 of actions for Wales and his club Scarletts.
So how has Leigh Halfpenny racked up so many concussions, and where does he go from here?
Many top rugby pundits have been critical of Leigh Halfpenny's tackling technique ever since he turned pro, frequently finding his head on the wrong side and ending up making contact with the hip or worse, an oncoming knee.
In 2015 Halfpenny was knocked clean unconscious in a six nations match against Italy. In the video below you can see exactly how he his head is in a dangerous position and taking a full contact to the temple.
Another thing to recognise that is Halfpenny is only 5ft 10 and weighs 82-85kg. In a sport with no weight limits, it means he regularly finds himself at a physical disadvantage in the collision, compounding the issue of his poor tackle technique.
Fast forward a couple of years when Halfpenny was selected to play for the Lions in the tour in New Zealand. After one of the opening games against the Maori All Blacks, Halfpenny described concussion symptoms after the game but was passed to play by the team medical officer for their game only another 7 days later.
This raises another issue that no doubt plays a part in the brain health of many top flight rugby players, the schedule. It's brutal with very little time for rest and recovery. The wear and tear on the brain builds up quickly causing long term neurological damage. Not so much a death by a thousand paper-cuts but a brain injury from a thousand smashes into pacific islanders.
Now in 2018, Halfpenny was caught in a collision of heads by Samu Kerevi who was charging the ball down in an Autumn International contest between Wales and Australia. It's clear Halfpenny goes unconscious briefly with his arms going stiff above his head before regaining consciousness.
While it's difficult to tell the force of the impact, it is worrying how easily Halfpenny is KO'd, suggesting a cumulative effect of concussive and sub-concussive blows resulting in a lower threshold for neurological trauma. 5 weeks on and Halfpenny is still out, dealing with the effects of this nasty knockout.
Leigh Halfpenny has sustained a serious amount of brain trauma over his career and at the age of 29 he still has a long life ahead of him outside the game. It can be difficult for pros who still have so much to give to call time on their careers due to brain damage.
We hope he has a speedy recovery and that the medical team around him gives him the best advice possible to keep him healthy.