Stephen Ferris: Former Ireland star says rugby's dementia crisis 'worrying'

Steve Thompson (left) won 73 caps for England
Steve Thompson (left) won a World Cup medal with England in 2003 but has been diagnosed with dementia

Former Ulster and Ireland star Stephen Ferris says the current dementia crisis in rugby is a "worrying" development.

England World Cup winner Steve Thompson is among eight players taking legal action against the game's authorities after being diagnosed with the disease.

Ferris believes the game's future is secure but that efforts must continue to make the sport as safe as possible.

"The sport of rugby is on a bit of a cliff edge at the minute," added the former British and Irish Lions flanker.

"It is worrying of course it is. [That's speaking] as a former professional myself who tackled ferociously week in week out putting the body on the line.

"All the rules and stipulations that have been put in place over the last couple of years to make the game safer is exactly the way it should be going.

"Back 10, 15 years and even in the amateur era, it was very dangerous with cheap shots. That's all been cut out of the game now and that's a positive."

Stephen Ferris hands off Roddy Grant during a game between Ulster and Edinburgh in 2014
Stephen Ferris was forced to retire in 2014 because of an ankle injury after earning 35 Ireland caps and playing 106 times for Ulster

Ferris a 'fiercely-committed' player

Despite making his name as a fiercely-committed player, Ferris said that he only suffered two concussions during his career.

"I had one bad concussion when I was 18 years of age playing for Dungannon where I was out cold and I was removed from the game by Jeremy Davidson.

"And in my penultimate game for Ulster I took a bit of a bang to the head. I didn't pass the HIA protocols but apart from that, I did not have any bangs to the head whatsoever."

Ferris backs suggestions that contact should be reduced during training in an attempt to counter the prevalence of sub-concussions which cumulatively can lead to early onset dementia.

"They talk about contact in training and removing a bit of that I think that will certainly help."

'The best team sport in the world'

Ferris says it is understandable parents may be concerned about their children playing rugby amid the current debate on concussion and dementia but adds that he remains a strong advocate of the sport.

"If I have kids in the future or if I'm speaking to any young kids, it's the best team sport in the world in my opinion," he said.

"I've learnt so many values out of the game of rugby and if they can continue to develop the laws of the game to make it safer, I think that's a huge, huge positive.

"I don't worry about the future of rugby. Not at all. It's a game that's played all over the world and we're only talking of a very small group of players here.

"There's sympathy of course for those players. I played against Alix Popham when playing Wales. He was a fantastic player and now finds himself and his family in a really difficult position.

"My sympathies go out to them and I hope they get it resolved but for me, you've just got to stay positive and look forward to being fit and healthy in the future."

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