Leinster’s Hayden Triggs is no household name, but the veteran Kiwi lock gave an interview yesterday that should grab everyone’s attention when admitting he is “scared” by the spike in concussions and other injuries in modern rugby.
It was a startling admission from the former New Zealand Army mechanic who, at 6’ 7”, well over 100kgs and with 14 years of top-level rugby under his belt with four Super Rugby franchises, Leinster and the Maori All Blacks, hardly qualifies as a man who would frighten easily.
And the 33-year-old also made some pointed observations about the culture of northern hemisphere rugby, bemoaning a focus on big hits rather than skills needed to avoid collisions.
Triggs was speaking at a run-of-the-mill weekly press conference, when a query about the injury sustained by Leinster second row colleague Mike McCarthy, while on Ireland duty in Paris on Saturday, changed the course of the conversation.
Triggs spoke of the “horrific” clash of heads with teammate Jack McGrath that resulted in McCarthy leaving the field on a stretcher and in a neck brace, with photographers capturing his vacant expression as he was being attended to by medical staff.
It made for a deeply uncomfortable shot.
Concussion has dominated the discourse around rugby in recent years in the way it already had with American football and Triggs claims to have seen its incidence shoot up in the past two years alone.
“Aw look, I’ll be honest, I’m scared about it.
“When I saw Macca go down and for him to go off on a stretcher… normally if you get a concussion they sit you up, feel your neck and then you walk off. But he’s on a stretcher, man, with his neck tied down.
“That’s scary. I’ve got kids. I’ve got a wife.
“I’m on the other side of the world from home.
“I don’t want that to happen to me.”
“For 80 minutes of the week, I don’t think about it.
“I don’t always think about it. But, when I see Macca, I think ‘shit man.’
“You think about it. You don’t want it to happen to anybody.”
He’s been here before. In February 2014, Triggs’ Chiefs teammate Ben Afeaki collided with colleague Brodie Retallick during a Super Rugby game.
It was Afeaki’s third concussion in as many years and forced his retirement.
Months after the third injury, Afeaki admitted he had trouble with basic tasks such as reading and driving.
“Every occasion is different,” said Triggs yesterday. “It’s freaky.”
Leinster have seen Kevin McLoughlin, Bernard Jackman, and John Fogarty call time on their careers due to head injuries.
As fears grow at all levels of the game, one healthcare provider is today launching a Concussion Management Programme which will deliver 1,350 baseline screenings to young amateur players in Leinster free of charge.
Triggs stopped himself at one point yesterday, smiled nervously at a Leinster media man, and suggested maybe this wasn’t what he was supposed to be talking about.
He continued anyway and in a vein we have heard from few, if any, current players in the professional game.
It was honest, refreshing, and frightening. “Concussion is getting more and more of an issue.
“You can’t escape it now.
“I took a knock to the head just in a ruck and it kind of rocked my head and the doc is straight over ‘are you alright, are you feeling okay, how you feeling?’ and I’m just like ‘leave me alone’.
“But that’s the focus. Everyone is massive, whether you are a hooker… You look at our backs now all over the world.
“They are over 100 kilos, easy, nearly everyone. Half-backs are getting that big. I don’t know.”
The supersizing of rugby players means concussions aren’t the only problem. Triggs also pointed out that there are now soft tissue and joint injuries in every game.
“We spend so much time in the gym now.
“Power is the focus of strength training.
“I don’t know if I’m meant to be talking about this but they’re not super athletes but they’re kinda heading that way.
“I watch a lot of NFL and these guys are massive human beings but they play over a stretch of over four hours and they can be that big. Whereas we’re stretching over 80 minutes… and you’re still getting bigger and faster.”
Triggs also spoke about rugby’s ethos of putting your body on the line and “bleeding for your brother” and suggested a difference in cultures north and south of the equator.
To illustrate the approach in Europe, Triggs used the example of Leinster’s 52-0 win over Zebre last Friday when, despite trailing heavily, the Italians continued to fling themselves into rucks and stymie mauls.
His own bruised and reddened face was proof of the toll it took.
“People up here focus more on the collision.
“We try to avoid contact down there (southern hemisphere).
“I know that sounds silly, but whenever you talk about a ball carrier going into contact you try to pick a weak shoulder or get a step around the outside shoulder.
“I don’t want to say the coaches tell us to look for a collision. Like, we’re all trying to do the same thing but, yeah, it is just hard to… Don’t get me wrong, head knocks are happening down there.
“It is happening everywhere.
“It is just rugby, man. Everyone is getting too big.”
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