Former All Black Sir John Kirwan who broke the mould and
mentioned his struggles with depression during his playing
Depression among rugby players has been ranked alongside
concerns about the judiciary and concussion, and the
International Rugby Players' Association boss Rob Nichol wants
the issue addressed before the 2015 World Cup.
"The game is doing so much around the physical health of the
professional player, and we very much appreciate this.
However it is our belief that the prevalence of depression
and feelings of despair is significant amongst professional
athletes, and that the mental health of the professional
rugby player both during and after his playing career is an
area we need to put more resource and focus into," Nichol,
who is also the New Zealand Professional Rugby Players'
Association chief, said at the recent international
conference in Dublin.
"We challenged the conference to ensure that by the 2015
Rugby World Cup the game can put its hand up and say that
more than any other sport we understand the issues associated
with the mental health of the elite player and that we have
the screening, education and support programs in place to
help those who need it."
Depression has received limited publicity in rugby circles in
recent times and it was almost never spoken of before former
All Black Sir John Kirwan broke the mould and mentioned his
struggles with the illness during his playing days.
The current Blues' coach was knighted this year for his
services to rugby and mental health awareness, and has also
penned a book on his battle with depression.
Nichol felt his presentation on depression was a step forward
for making it a talking point.
"We felt the presentation [in Dublin] was well received by
what are a quality group of the medical practitioners and
administrators operating throughout the rugby world. It is
crucial we create an environment where players struggling to
put their hand up, ask for help, so that professional people
can help them."
Other key items on the agenda were the international judicial
system and concussion.
Collision sports around the world have recently taken on
varying protocols and tests with regards to concussion to
support the long-term welfare of their players.
The International Rugby Players' Association (IRPA) has
worked with the IRB during recent years to revise the Return
to Play Protocol and drive the new Pitch Side Concussion
Assessment (PSCA) process.
"We are very supportive of the PSCA process," Nichol said.
"For years we argued that a player who takes a knock to the
head needed to be able to be removed from the field of play
in order to be better assessed. It was put off on the basis
that it could be used as a means of manipulating substitution
The judicial system's inconsistencies have been highlighted
following the bizarre case of Adam Thomson where the All
Blacks flanker was suspended for one game for stomping but
the sanction was doubled on review after the intervention by
IRB boss Brett Gosper.
Nichol said the IRPA wanted to rid the game of the
inconsistencies in the judicial system.
"The objective will be to narrow down the subjective nature
of the sanctioning regime, and to ensure that the primary
focus is to suspend for the appropriate number of identified
games, and therefore the number of weeks that encompasses
those games, not the other way around which seems to confuse
The conference also touched on match-fixing within the game
and the length of the season.
"We have lobbied hard for a better alignment around the
season structure, between the club and international game,
between the northern and the southern hemispheres.
"While most are committed to competitions in their current
form, the period post 2015 perhaps provides the opportunity
for some fresh thinking and debate regarding this
long-standing issue," Nichol said.