Dangers of concussion scare me, admits Triggs
Published 16/02/2016 | 02:30
In this modern age when players are guided on what they should and shouldn't say in public, a bout of refreshing honesty every now and then can go a long way.
At 6ft 7in and weighing in at 108kg, it's fair to say that Hayden Triggs is a colossal man but during a brief but brilliantly honest conversation, his softly spoken nature and use of words such as "scary", "horrific" and "freaky" when talking about concussion hammers home the concerns that players have for their well-being.
Over the course of getting a fascinating and rare insight into the mindset of a professional player, Triggs speaks of his "old school" approach, and 10 minutes in his company is enough to appreciate that.
Having played the majority of his 14-year career in the southern hemisphere, Triggs has experienced two massively different cultures and he firmly believes that nowadays, players are too focussed on getting bigger.
Mike McCarthy's sickening clash of heads with Jack McGrath resulted in him suffering concussion and being stretchered off in a neck brace in Paris on Saturday and watching on, Triggs admitted that he was deeply concerned for his team-mate.
"I've sent him a message because I was pretty scared for him," Triggs said.
"It looked horrific to see him out on a stretcher but talking to the lads who are back from Irish camp he seems normal, well, Mad Macca normal! But yeah, it's scary.
"Aw look, I'll be honest, I'm scared about it (concussion). When I saw Macca go down and for him to go off on a stretcher. . . normally if you get a concussion, they sit you up, feel your neck and then you walk off.
"But he's on a stretcher, man, with his neck tied down. That's scary. I've got kids. I've got a wife. I'm on the other side of world from home. I don't want that to happen to me."
Growing up in New Zealand, Triggs was always taught to look for the space and not for the contact but in his first season playing in the northern hemisphere, he quickly learned the glaring difference between the two cultures.
"People up here focus more on the collision," the second-row maintained.
"We try to avoid contact down there. I know that sounds silly but whenever you talk about a ball carrier going into contact you try to pick a weak shoulder or get a step around the outside shoulder. Every game I have played here I have felt.
"Don't get me wrong, head knocks are happening down there. It is happening everywhere. It is just rugby, man. Everyone is getting too big.
"Everyone is massive, whether you are a hooker . . . You look at our backs now all over the world. They are over 100 kilos, easy, nearly everyone. Half-backs are getting that big.
"Throughout the history of rugby all you ever hear is 'put your body on the line', 'bleed for your brother'. Like, I'm from the old school. You do that.
"We spend so much time in the gym now. Power is the focus of strength training. I don't know if I'm meant to be talking about this, but they're not super athletes but they're kinda heading that way.
"I watch a lot of NFL and these guys are massive human beings but they play for a stretch of over four hours and they can be that big.
"Whereas we're stretching over 80 minutes, for those guys that do play 80, and you're still getting bigger and faster."
The focus has undoubtedly shifted more towards the welfare of players but there is still some way to go. The Leinster Branch are currently undertaking an "internal investigation" for an incident in last Thursday's Schools Cup match in which the referee over-ruled Gonzaga's medical official about an apparent head injury suffered to one of their teenage props.
"Concussion is getting more and more of an issue. You can't escape it now," Triggs insisted.
"I took a knock to the head just in a ruck and it kind of rocked my head and the doc is straight over 'are you alright, are you feeling okay, how you feeling?' and I'm just like 'leave me alone'. But that's the focus.
"We had a scary one. A mate of mine back home, Ben Afeaki (former All Black prop), he clashed heads with Brodie Retallick in a Super game (in 2014). His career is done because of it.
"Brodie Retallick was in the same impact and he continued on to be World Player of the Year. Every occasion is different. It's freaky.
"At training, we smash each other on two days of the week. If you're not in the team, you're trying to get in the team. It's physical. That's kind of when you think about it. You don't want to get injured when you're not playing the game.
"In review, when you're watching your defence, or someone else's, you see some pretty ugly things, some pretty scary things.
"For 80 minutes of the week, I don't think about it (concussion).
"I don't always think about it. But, when I see Macca, I think 's**t man.' You think about it. You don't want it to happen to anybody."
At a time when the vast majority of current players are mindful about what they say about concussion, Triggs' honesty is a timely reminder that they are not all programmed in the same robotic manner.