IOL Sport writer, Lungani Zama.
The South African rugby fraternity has been rocked in recent weeks by the sudden retirement of two flyhalves for the same thing.

Both Peter Grant and Patrick Lambie, former Bok 10s of the same era, were handed medical advice that carrying on taking big hits, in the first five-eighth channel, may pose serious threats to their wellbeing.

Essentially, they both retired hurt. They walked away from the game before they had had quite enough, but both will take great comfort that they walked away.

It doesn’t always work out for all sportsmen who take knocks to the head on a regular basis. We see boxers trading heavy blows, and we wince and wonder at their sheer bravado. Because the rules of boxing revolve around inflicting physical pain, it is almost taken as par for the course that there will be head trauma.

In rugby, the lines were literally blurred for years, before far more stringent measures around concussion came into it.

Players now go off immediately, and they have to pass a test before being allowed back on. Even then, the cumulative effect is not always immediately apparent.

“Pat gave great service to the Springboks and the Sharks, and I want to wish him well with his future endeavours,” said Bok coach Rassie Erasmus. Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images

Even weeks and weeks after his knock, Lambie was still getting dizzy spells. That is a grim thought, especially when one considers how many schoolboys brazenly run back onto the field after a heavy collision, desperate to catch the eye of a talent scout.

Rugby is huge business, right around the world. There are South Africans playing for Ireland, England, Scotland and France. Those adopted nations will grow, as young players realise that one’s passport is not a limitation but, actually, it can be an attraction.

So players can go to desperate lengths to impress, even risking their health in the process. What happened to Lambie and Grant ought to be a grim reminder not to take the game lightly.

Everything about rugby is unnatural, especially played in the traditional South African manner that seeks out confrontation.

It is a macho business that is designed to express dominance via a threshold of pain; a curious construction that says the ability to absorb pain makes you more of a man.

Peter Grant bids his farewell to Stormers fans at Newlands in July 2014. Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

If anything, we should be steering rugby players to be smarter. All those collisions take years off life at the back end, and even take away quality of life in one’s prime. These are uncomfortable truths, but they remain truths nonetheless. Lambie and Grant are just a tip of the iceberg, because these knocks to the head are commonplace in rugby.

At all levels.

It is imperative to take lessons from them, and at least try to protect still developing skulls at a younger age. If you stand on the sidelines of an under-10 match, you will see little boys going full Bakkies Botha or Eben Etzebeth into rucks, oblivious to the pain.

That isn’t healthy, but try and curb that enthusiasm with a report on the effects of blows to the head at a young age.

You’re a killjoy, an enemy of progress, and find little or no support. It’s an awkward conversation, but one that needs to be had. The next ones after Pat Lambie and Peter Grant might not be so lucky. And that will happen on our watch, if we all continue to ignore the signals.

Pivots are noted for their intelligence, so it is worth preserving that most precious element of the game.

Heck, it’s the most precious element of our lives.

@whamzam17


Sunday Tribune

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