Kronfeld undecided on joining lawsuit

Former All Black Josh Kronfeld wears and tests a Prevent Biometrics mouthguard which measures the...
Former All Black Josh Kronfeld wears and tests a Prevent Biometrics mouthguard which measures the head impacts during a media event in Auckland last year. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
Former All Black Josh Kronfeld is undecided as to whether he will join a list of nearly 300 players who are taking legal action against rugby union’s governing bodies for failing to protect them from the risk of brain damage.

The 52-year-old told the Otago Daily Times he had been approached to join the lawsuit by former All Black Carl Hayman.

But Kronfeld, who played 54 tests for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2000, had mixed feelings about the legal action, despite suffering ongoing concussion symptoms.

He was deeply loyal to the game he loved.

"But I do feel like some questions have to be asked," he said.

"My feelings at the moment is I’m not sure, and because I’m not sure I don’t know what direction to go in yet.

"That is not to say I won’t or I will [join the legal action]. That is just where I’m at the moment.

"I know I need to make some decisions shortly with respect to it all, and if I’m going to be involved.

"I guess I’ve just kind of been avoiding it. When you are not thinking about it, it is not a pressure."

The players are suing World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for failing in their duty of care to put in place safeguards to protect their health and safety.

Hayman is the highest profile New Zealander listed as a claimant.

The 44-year-old former tighthead prop, who played 45 tests for the All Blacks between 2001 and 2007, has been diagnosed with early-onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Kronfeld’s own experiences with concussion are complicated.

He had a surfing accident about "five or six years ago"and endured heavy concussion symptoms for 18 months.

"Through that I’ve come to understand I’ve had a lot of these symptoms since I was a 20-year-old," he said.

"You have to ask the question — have we just had our heads buried in the sand and not looked at it, or was it just bad luck and it didn’t get picked up because I was busy doing other things and breaking other things in my body, you know?

"Are they at fault or not? I’m not quite sure where I sit on that, to be fair."

Kronfeld was so concerned about his health, though, he got tested for dementia. While he was cleared, he still experiences chronic concussion symptoms and has tracking issues with his eyes.

His wife, Bronwyn Kronfeld-Illingworth, has noticed changes in his personality since the accident.

He was not as patient as he once was, and multitasking was difficult.

"I can’t write down a phone number while someone is reading it to me," he said.

"We all struggle with those sort of things as we get older, so that is part of it as well I’m sure. But how much of it is rugby and how much of it is just bad luck?

"I’m definitely not as patient as I used to be, that is for sure. But because I’m aware of it now, I can keep myself where I need to be instead of flying off the handle."

Kronfeld was told by a medical professional he is living "in a fight or flight mode because my brain was telling me there was something wrong".

"Once that was explained to me it created some normality at home almost instantly just because I understood it. If you can’t understand something, then that is when a lot of those pressures show up."

Rugby was something Kronfeld loved doing, and joining a lawsuit against the game’s governing bodies was a "big step" in his view.

What was important to him was the future of the game.

Rugby has made steps to reduce the tackle height to limit the risk to its players.

"I feel like they are trying really hard now to limit the head knocks, but is it a bit too late? That is the question that this court case will answer, I think."