Ronan O’Gara: “I played fully concussed against Australia”

Ronan O'Gara
Ronan O'Gara

RUGBY icon Ronan O’Gara has admitted he played a crunch World Cup match against Australia in 2003 fully concussed and unable to see properly, in a new hard-hitting documentary which tackles concussions on the pitch.

The RTE documentary delves into the devastating and, in rare cases, fatal consequences of concussion, such as the tragic death of 14-year-old Benjamin Robinson, who suffered repeated head injuries during a schools match.

Despite a whole raft of safety and awareness campaigns since the death of the talented teenager in Antrim in 2011, his mother Karen Walton Robinson doesn’t believe the grave dangers of concussion have hit home.

“I think for there to be a huge ‘oh my goodness this does happen’ it will have to happen live on TV. And that’s sad,” she told the RTE documentary

In Hidden Impact, legendary fly-half O’Gara reveals how he never entertained leaving the pitch during one of the biggest matches of his career despite being so concussed.

“I played the game fully concussed in the World Cup in 2003 in Australia. I can remember I got tackled and banged heads, got up and the pitch was like the size of a match box in my head. But I couldn’t re-focus.

“I was trying to get my angles for kicking and I can remember thinking ‘Jeez this is very easy, the pitch is tiny here’. I was kind of hoping it would go – but it just didn’t go.

“Do you think I’m going to walk off in the quarter-final, with the whole country watching, because of a bang to the head? There was no knowledge there. I didn’t know what it was.”

He said rugby players are known as “hard men”, but said there has been a complete culture change in the way injuries are treated in pro rugby.

“Rugby is a macho game. You do whatever it takes, whether you are knocked out, a broken rib...

“Now players have relinquished power, now the doctor is the deal-maker, the decision maker. It’s a great place for rugby to be in.”

But while international rugby has a huge spotlight on its games, medical experts in the documentary raised concerns about the alarming number of concussions in the country’s schoolboy rugby matches.

The documentary reveals how Benjamin was treated for suspected head injuries on at least two occasions and allowed to play on for his school, Carrickfergus Grammar in Antrim, before losing consciousness on the pitch in January 2011.

The rising rugby star never woke up and two days later died in hospital of a rare condition called Second Impact Syndrome, where the brain swells rapidly after a person suffers two concussions in quick succession.

Karen knew something was drastically wrong when she saw him staggering around the field.

She said: “I called out to him ‘Benjamin, Benjamin’ and the referee told me to calm down and you are immediately put back in your place. I called him and he turned round and he just said ‘I don’t feel right’.

“I started running across the pitch and Ben’s captain told me he was out cold. My son was lying on his back with the whites of his eyes staring up at me and he was making this awful rasping noise. And the game is still going on,” she said in an emotional interview.

His father said his son, in simple terms, was allowed to play on with a brain injury.

Dr Rod Mc Loughlin, Head of Medical services with the IRFU, said Benjamin’s death was a terrible tragedy.

“It has been a big moment for rugby. What we have done since then is worked hard to educate everyone about concussion, to give them the tools to manage concussion and to try and change a culture in rugby,” he said.

And leading concussion expert, Dr. Willie Stewart, said there should never be any chances taken with concussion,

“There should be no occasion anywhere in sport where a kid is being checked for suspected concussion and allowed to play on. It should never happen.”