RWC 2015: Jonathan Thomas retires due to epilepsy brought on by head trauma

'It’s with real sadness I have to announce my retirement from the game with immediate effect'

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Former Wales international Jonathan Thomas has been forced to retire from rugby with epilepsy caused by multiple head traumas during his playing career.

At a time when the spotlight on the sport has never been greater on the eve of the World Cup and concussion is arguably rugby’s greatest challenge, the two-time Grand Slam winner announced he had been forced to call time on his career at the age of 32 with “a degree of brain injury”.

The back-row forward, who represented Wales 67 times and won the Grand Slam in 2005 and 2008 as well as playing in two World Cups, was diagnosed with epilepsy last year and admitted it was too dangerous for him to play on.

“It’s with real sadness I have to announce my retirement from the game with immediate effect,” he said. “I was diagnosed with epilepsy last season, which is thought to be from multiple head traumas and has led to a degree of brain injury.

“I’ve done everything in my power to keep playing, however, there comes a point when you realise you need to listen to medical experts and also do what’s best for your well-being.

“I’m keen to stress there are many different types of epilepsy and I’m fortunate to only suffer from it in a mild way compared to some. Naturally, though, it has proved too difficult to continue as a professional athlete.

“I have been working closely with my medical team and consultant for many months and hope this was something that could be managed in order for me to continue playing but, sadly, this isn’t the case.”

The untimely end to another front-line career is a stark reminder of how concussion and head trauma are safety concerns for the game.

A Rugby Football Union audit revealed that incidents of concussion had risen sharply to 10.5 concussions per 1,000 playing hours in the Premiership during 2013-14, up from 6.7 the season before and 5.2 the campaign before that.

The Wales head coach, Warren Gatland, admitted the news was a reminder of the perils of the game. He said: “A lot has been highlighted in recent times about the physicality of the game and potentially those sorts of injuries. It’s a shame for JT.

“When he was involved for Wales he was a player we had a lot of time for. There was no one that put on that jersey with more pride than he did so you’ve got to feel for him having to retire through a head injury and we wish him all the best. Hopefully, it’s not too hard on him from an injury point of view and also illness point of view.”

Thomas, who made 188 appearances for the Ospreys, winning four league titles and an Anglo-Welsh trophy, had been playing with Worcester since 2013, a club he had helped previously to gain promotion to the Premiership.

He called on his peers to ensure they are informed in order to avoid similar occurrences in the professional ranks.

“I’ve learnt a huge amount during the last few months about head trauma, seizures and epilepsy, and it would be great if I could help out in some way,” he said.

“At the elite level of the game I think the unions and medical departments of clubs do a great job and have a great understanding but I still think it’s the players who need more educating about the warning signs and getting out of that ‘digging in’ mentality.

“I must stress, however, in no way would I discourage anyone from playing the game that has given me so much. Also I don’t regret anything about my rugby career and I wouldn’t change a thing.”