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Thursday 2 October 2014

Parents of rugby death schoolboy (14) critical of IRFU concussion campaign

'Concussion can be fatal. I have the death certificate to prove it'

Eoghan McNeill

Published 01/09/2014 | 13:36

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Benjamin Robson died on a rugby pitch in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim

The parents of a fourteen-year-old boy who died after suffering a number of concussions on the rugby pitch has criticised the IRFU and the prevailing attitudes towards concussion in the sport.

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"You hear commentators go: 'he took a big hit.' They play it down. Concussion is a brain injury," said Benjamin Robinson's mother Karen Walton.

"There's still that old schoolboy mentality of 'suck it up; get on with it. After a hit you're in a daze anyway.' And that is wrong. If you suspect concussion, get that child off and don't return him to the match," she told the Sean O'Rourke show today.

Read more: Mother wanted rugby death son taken off at half-time inquest hears 

Ben was playing at centre for Carrickfergus Grammar against Dalriada in a Medallion Shield (u15) match in 2011.

He suffered a number of heavy hits in the match before losing consciousness on the pitch.

His father, Peter Robinson, recalled getting the news of his son's injuries.

"When you play rugby all your life, you get accustomed to the terminology being used. I thought, 'He's unconscious. He'll come out of this, he'll be fine'," he said on the RTE Radio 1 show.

Benjamin was rushed to hospital after the match and his father followed soon afterwards.

"They said to me that they expect to see these kind of injuries from a car accident. They said he'd had a brain injury and his chance of survival was slim. He was on life support at that stage," he said.

Benjamin died in hospital later that night. Six months later the pathologist's report said he died of Second-impact Syndrome, a swelling of the brain caused by successive concussions.

Read more: Rugby death avoidable, inquest told 

Although Peter had "played rugby all his life", he wasn't familiar with the term.

In an effort to learn more, he spent hours analysing a video of Benjamin's last match.

Peter identified one particularly hard hit suffered by his son attempting to tackle his opposing centre:

"Initially, when you look at it in real time, you think it's a clash of heads, but it's not - it's like a whiplash effect. And Ben's out on his feet. He's just not there, his hands are down by his side. In in a matter of minutes, he was involved ina heavy tackle again, and he's put on the ground," he said.

Peter and Karen maintain if their son's first concussion had been spotted, he would still be alive:

"The first concussion wasn't recognised and he wasn't removed from the game. To me the big issue is concussion, if he had been removed form the game, Second-impact wouldn't have been mentioned," said Peter.

During Benjamin's inquest, it emerged that the IRFU had launched their "traffic light" poster campaign aimed at educating players, coaches and parents on the dangers of concussion.

Karen is critical of the campaign: "It's very complicated and I don't think it says anywhere that concussion can be fatal," she said.

Peter is equally critical of the way the IRFU tackle the probem of concussion, particularly in young players.

"To be honest, I don't think they recognise the difference with younger people playing rugby. They're more prone to head injuries because of their age - the brain isn't fully developed until you're 24," he said.

Shocked at the lack of information on concussion available to young rugby players and their families, Peter and Karen launched an information campaign in Northern Ireland on April 30th.

"Some of the information, we had to go around and around websites to find. That should be in parents' hands - it should be delivered to parents. We want to use common phrases. Concussion can be fatal," said Peter.

"There's been three Second-impact deaths in rugby since Ben.I don't like the term 'rare.' If it happened once, it can happen again," he added.

They have met with the IRFU in Dublin, stressing to the Union the importance of protecting young vulnerable players.

Central to their campaign is educating parents of rugby players on the warning signs of possible concussions.

"It's such a simple message really. We hope to get the message out to parents. The more eyes and ears around the pitch the better," said Karen.

Three years after their son's last rugby match, Peter and Karen haven't come to terms with his death.

"Not only did we lose Benjamin that day, we lost a part of ourselves. The impact has been enormous, and there are so many triggers. The house is quiet," said Karen, audibly fighting back tears.

Peter is also finding it hard to cope.

"People say time is a healer, but I don't agree with that. It just gets worse. I have the death certificate to prove it. Concussion can be fatal," he said.

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