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Brain problems for ex rugby players: study

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 24/08/2016

Cillian Willis (L) of Sale is helped from the pitch by a trainer after sustaining an injury during the LV Cup Semi Final match between Sale Sharks and Saracens at the Salford City Stadium on March 10, 2013 in Salford, England. © Paul Thomas/Getty Images Cillian Willis (L) of Sale is helped from the pitch by a trainer after sustaining an injury during the LV Cup Semi Final match between Sale Sharks and Saracens at the Salford City Stadium on March 10, 2013 in Salford, England. Retired top rugby players are more likely to suffer brain problems later in life, according to new research.

A study published in online journal Sports Medicine has linked playing rugby - or a history of concussion - with "small to moderate neurocognitive deficits" after retirement from competitive sport.

The researchers from AUT found former top-level rugby players performed worse in several brain tests, including having lower attention and worse brain processing speed, than former athletes in non-contact sports.

Lower level rugby players also suffered problems but to a lesser degree than their top-flight counterparts.

The research, conducted using an online neuropsychological test and funded by World Rugby - looked at 366 retired athletes - including elite rugby players, community players and competitors in non-contact sports.

About 85 per cent of top-level rugby players reported having at least one concussion while playing, compared to 23 per cent of non-contact players.

AUT's earlier results in the study failed to find definitive links between playing rugby and long-term health and welfare issues.

Meanwhile, this week, Ireland captain Brian O'Driscoll's cousin, - Cillian Willis - has became the first professional rugby player to sue an English club for clinical negligence over concussion.

Willis, a former half-back, for the Sale Sharks is taking legal action against the side over two head injuries he suffered during a game in March, 2015.

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