All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree said his immediate reaction to learning that Carl Hayman had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia was a sadness.
The former All Blacks tighthead stopper, who played the last of his 45 Tests in the shock loss to France in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup, has revealed that The Bounce he has also been diagnosed with probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Hayman is 41.
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From Rome, where the All Blacks are preparing to play Italy on Sunday morning, Plumtree was shocked to hear about Hayman’s condition.
“Really sad,” Plumtree said. “Carl, a 45-Test All Black, has done a lot for New Zealand’s rugby. It’s a really sad situation if he’s struggling with dementia at such an early age.
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“It simply came to our notice then. We know he has been a pretty popular person in this environment. It’s not nice to hear those stories. ”
Hayman, now living in Taranaki, played for Highlanders and Otago in New Zealand before playing for Newcastle in England and Toulon in France until retiring from the game in 2015.
Although Plumtree was also brought up in Taranaki, he said he was never involved with Hayman in a rugby capacity.
In December, Hayman revealed that he had been in contact with British-based lawyers about his medical condition following his retirement from the sport.
It followed after admission by former English hooker Steve Thompson that he had been diagnosed with early onset dementia and could not remember playing in his team’s victory over Australia in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney.
Thompson and a group of retired players, including Hayman, are pursuing a lawsuit against World Rugby, Rugby Football Union (England) and Welsh Rugby Union.
Plumtree, who also played in South Africa after leaving New Zealand and has been a coach since 1997, said he was confident in how rugby had evolved in recognizing the need to reduce brain damage.
“If you look at the laws now, they really protect the head,” Plumtree said. “The way we train is, of course, the head a protected area.”
All Blacks coaches, Plumtree said, constantly tried to encourage athletes to have the “perfect technique”, whether it was to take the high ball, in defense or at the breakdown, to ensure that the risk of a player incurring a concussion was minimized. .
“We know it’s not good for our game and we know we have to protect our players.
“And that is whether it is for training or whether it is during a match. If anything happens out there on the field, it must be an accident.
“Of course I hate head injuries.”
Plumtree reiterated that he was pleased that the sport was on the “right track” in terms of ensuring that player welfare was a top priority.
“And if you look at the statistics now, there’s hopefully less of it [concussions]. And I will return to what I said before, I feel sorry for Carl and all the other players involved in this regard. ”
All Blacks coaches reduce injuries by assessing how sore the players are before preparing for the training programs.
This, in turn, meant that their workload could be called back Monday and Tuesday after a match.
After taking Wednesday off, the players are involved in an intense session on Thursday, but with reservations.
“The division is controversial, like what you would see in a normal match, and the tackle is not as controversial,” Plumtree said. “We minimize the risk all the time during the week.”
The need to perfect technique must be balanced with the recognition that players cannot beat each other. Contact is encouraged within a shortened space.
Plumtree said a tackler could approach from a distance of 1m instead of driving fully from a distance of 5m. Players who perform cleanups also reduce their run-up and train against a cushion designed in the form of an opponent tackle.
“So we know the collision is not that big, but the technique can still be perfect,” Plumtree said. “And it’s the same with the collapse.”