Jamie Heaslip: Kevin McLaughlin retiring shows rugby prioritises health

Jamie Heaslip believes the decision of Leinster captain Kevin McLaughlin to retire is evidence of how seriously rugby is taking the effects of concussion and looking after affected players.

McLaughlin, 31, was on Tuesday forced to call time on a career that saw him win two Heineken Cup winners’ medals and eight caps for Ireland. The decision came on the advice of a leading neurologist due to concerns about the back row’s increasing susceptibility to concussion and the length of recovery from concussions.

McLaughlin had suffered a concussive episode during his province’s Pro12 season opener against Edinburgh earlier this month and following tests it was recommended that it would be in his best long-term interests to stop playing.

His Leinster team-mates in Ireland’s World Cup squad received the news via a text message from McLaughlin and fellow back-rower Heaslip said he was right to prioritise his health.

“I talked to Kev. He gave me a text and I was talking to him,” Heaslip said. “I literally kind of said to him, you feel for him but health is first. I think you’ve got two-thirds of your life to live after rugby so you want to make them the best quality possible and he’s been given the advice he’s been given.

“That’s the close of this chapter for him. He’ll probably take a bit of time to decompress from the environment that is rugby and follow onto his next path, whatever that is. But Kev is a very, very smart guy and I’m sure he’ll land on two feet.”

Heaslip, 31, said he could not afford to be too concerned about suffering from concussions and that having excellent medical care available enabled him to think that way.

“No, it’s like any other injury to be honest – the minute you think about any sort of injury... you can’t have that mindset going into our job, essentially.

“It’s not tiddlywinks, it’s a contact sport. You take on a certain amount of danger I suppose, playing the game. But we’ve got amazing medical staff, physios, great facilities available in terms of doctors and surgeons where we need to get into different hospitals around the world to be honest, but especially in Ireland.

“We’re well taken care of. When you know that’s in place, that’s the last thought you give it and fire ahead. Kev is the perfect example of people looking after him.”

Looking back on his friend’s career, Heaslip said he was happy “Chopper” had left the game “in one piece”.

Calling McLaughlin “the utmost professional, unbelievable team-mate, great guy, smart bloke”, he added: “I’m just happy for him that in one way, effectively, he’s gotten out in one piece. He can hold his head up and say he gave it his all. A couple of years ago he played around with finishing up, he kept at it and got his international cap, a good few caps after that. He’s just a definition of a really good professional and hard work and dedication paying off.”

Ireland’s injury profile heading into the Romania game is minimal, although fly-half Johnny Sexton, back-row Peter O’Mahony and lock Iain Henderson, all of whom started in the opening Pool D win over Canada, sat out training at St George’s Park yesterday.

None have been ruled out of contention for selection for the visit to Wembley with skills coach Richie Murphy confirming Sexton took a knock to his knee against the Canadians but the injury was “nothing serious”.

“We just felt that it was the right thing to just sit out training today. He’s fine and in good spirits,” Murphy said.

“Everyone’s in contention for Sunday. He’s definitely not been ruled out for any other reason. It’s just a case of trying to manage the players and make sure he’s okay for the weekend.”

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