This is the view of Steve Thompson at least, the ex-England hooker who was forced to retire himself after suffering a serious neck injury that ended his long and distinguished career at the coal face.

Thompson was forced to have surgery in order to relieve symptoms of dizziness and numbness but believes those in charge of the game are at risk of removing the physical challenge that makes rugby special.

“I’m a little bit worried about rugby to be honest,” said Steve Thompson, speaking exclusively to  888sport, “I know that everybody wants players to be safe and look after the players but it’s coming to a point where they’re putting players off and it’s getting a little ridiculous.”

According to Thompson the risks involved are something players are happy to trade off against the rewards.

“Players understand what the chances are for them to get injured. Of course, I appreciate the concussion thing and there is the sad news about Denton. But there are trying to stop too much in the game I think, with the no contesting from the high ball.”

“That’s why people go to watch rugby: for the big collisions. And players too play because they want to feel that. It seems to be the people around the sport, who don’t actually play it who are the ones crying about it.”

Balancing the intensity of the sporting competition with the safety of players is probably the single biggest issue facing rugby at the minute. Nobody wants to see the physical edge that makes rugby unique diluted, but then again, the threats to player health and ultimately their lives must be considered.

Thompson references the sad case of Dave Denton, who was forced to retire at just 29 as a result of his serious concussion problems. Denton’s case is however just the tip of the iceberg.

He was also a professional player with access to top quality neurological experts, who advised him it was unsafe to continue playing. What happens in the lower tiers of the game if a player in a similar position does not receive the same advice?

After a spate of deaths in France, rugby must face up to the real risks involved in the game, and Thompson, as tough as he undoubtedly is, should not brush over the issue of player safety. No player goes on to the pitch to die, and so dismissing the problem of safety in the game as unwanted meddling seems a little unhelpful.

However, Thompson does speak for a number of players when he expresses regret at the fact many of the decisions about player safety seem not to take the views of those playing the game into account. Imposing rules on players from above is not the solution.

This is an issue that looks set to divide opinion for years to come. One thing the retirement of Dave Denton proves though, is that the game has definitely not ‘gone soft.’

Read the full 888sport interview with Steve Thompson, including his thoughts on why England lack the leaders and mental strength to win the World Cup

(Image: The Mirror)

Written by Joe Ronan

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