FORMER Wales international Jonathan Thomas has spoken out on the importance of concussion in rugby union being treated seriously.
The Worcester Warriors captain suffered a blow to the head in an accidental collision with team-mate Ravai Fatiaki in the Aviva Premiership clash with Gloucester just before Christmas.
Although the 67-cap back-rower battled on until half-time at Kingsholm, he was then withdrawn as the effects of his head injury became clear.
It took a further three weeks before Thomas was able to pass the concussion protocol return-to-play tests.
The RFU have launched a new concussion education programme that will be mandatory for professional every player and coach and Thomas admits the issue needs tackling.
“Concussion deserves the media coverage it is getting at the moment because it is a serious thing," he said. "Rugby being rugby – especially when I first started – it was one of those things that was swept under the carpet.
“People at clubs would say ‘he’s had a head knock, but how soon can we get him back on the field’ and that was just the way it is.
“It’s not just the rugby clubs’ fault, though, the players are to blame too. You want to play and the easiest thing is to say you’re feeling fine, even if maybe you are not.
“That’s fine if you have a bad ankle, because you can just dig in and go through the pain barrier, but the nature of a concussion injury means you don’t really want to be playing when you have damage on the brain.
“From the perspective of Worcester, they have looked after me so well, I can’t speak highly enough of them. I was out for three weeks and the medical team were in touch every day and I was in the club often to speak to the doctors. I can’t say what it is like at other clubs, but Worcester have been great with me."
Playing in the unforgiving environment of the back row, head injuries have become part and parcel of Thomas' career. However, he was forced to give the issue his full attention after this latest incident sidelined him for a significant amount of time.
“I have had a number of head knocks in my career," he added. "It’s par for the course really, but I’ve never been out for three weeks before.
“I’ve had some quite bad ones where I’ve actually been knocked out on the field, but then been fine a couple of days later, so this has been a bit strange.
“It was quite an innocuous challenge when I collided with Ravai’s knee, then my head hit the floor, but I wasn’t knocked out and I carried on playing until half-time.
“I spoke with the neurologist and he said that sometimes they are the worst ones, because often you find the people who are actually knocked out are the ones who tend to recover quicker. The little head knocks like I had are the ones which can tend to have a bit of a worse concussion.
“It has been really frustrating because I was naturally champing at the bit to get back, but the nature of the protocols with concussion mean you have to go through certain tests, but I kept failing them because I was not right, so it was tough."