Rugby: Tougher head-contact laws seemingly reduce brain injuries, claims All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree

All Blacks assistant coach John Plumtree hopes tougher head-contact laws have helped reduced the brain injuries that plague many past players into retirement.

The NZ forwards coach has responded to news that former All Blacks prop Carl Hayman has joined a group of players suing World Rugby and England's Rugby Football Union for negligence, after failing to protect them against the risks of concussion during their careers.

Hayman, 41, played 46 tests between 2001-07, before pursuing a professional career in England and France, but has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, suffering headaches that led him to alcohol abuse and suicidal thoughts.

"It's a really sad situation that he's struggling with dementia at such an early age, so we've got a lot of empathy for that," says Plumtree. "He's been a pretty popular in this environment and it's not nice to hear about those stories."

Over the past couple of decades, most contact sports have been forced to re-examine their rules to reduce head contact that was previously regarded as part of their respective games. Rugby codes have clamped down on high tackles, while even football is considering the cumulative affects of heading the ball.

Last weekend, All Blacks prop Nepo Laulala was yellow carded against Wales, when he failed to wrap his arms in a tackle that saw his shoulder make contact with the head of Welsh flanker Ross Moriarty.

While these subjective calls often draw critical analysis from coaches, players and commentators, Plumtree believes the increased awareness is having the desired affect.

"If we look at our laws now, they really protect the head," he says. "The way that we coach, the head is a protected area.

"We're trying to coach perfect technique, whether it's the high ball or tackle situation or the breakdown, because the head is a protected area.

"We know it's not good for our game and we know we have to protect our players, whether that's at training or during a game. If anything happens out there on the field, it has to be an accident.

"I hate seeing head injuries. If you look at this tour we're on, we've had a couple of injuries, but no concussions, so I think we're going the right path, with the way we're looking after our athletes.

"If you look at the stats now, hopefully they'll say there's less of it. I feel sorry for Carl and any other players that are affected in this regard."

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