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Ex-All Black Hayman on ‘30% brain energy’ after concussions

Carl Hayman had a rugby career up there with the best in one of the toughest positions in the sport.

The former tight-head prop played 45 Tests for New Zealand, he won the Champions Cup three times and lifted the French Top 14 before retiring in 2015.

Despite the on-field accolades and achievements, the ex-front-rower now suffers from early-onset dementia aged just 43.

He often has memory losses and has had suicidal thoughts due to the neurodegenerative disease.

“It essentially means that I have a certain amount of brain energy per day,” Hayman told AFP.

“Someone explained to me that it’s like getting up in the morning and your cell phone is on 30 percent battery and you have to get through your day with your cell phone on 30 percent. 

“You’re pretty careful with what you do and how you spend that energy. 

“That’s the best way I can sum it up,” he added.

He played more than 400 games for the All Blacks, the Highlanders as well as Newcastle and Toulon.

Now, he is part of a lawsuit brought by similarly affected former players, including England hooker Steve Thompson and Wales back-rower Alix Popham, against the sport’s governing bodies.

“From my point of view, the reason for joining the legal case is certainly not a financial point of view but it’s to see change within the game,” Hayman, who now runs a boat tour company in New Zealand, said.

“To better look after players,” he added.

‘Elephant in the room’

This week, Hayman returned to the Cote d’Azur as the French club induct eight players, including ex-England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson, into their hall of fame.

His time at Toulon, owned at the time by colourful comic book millionaire Mourad Boudjellal, was littered with trophy wins including 2013 Champions Cup success, claimed despite trailing by nine points to Clermont after an hour.

“I still remember the story of Mourad leaving the stadium with 20 minutes to go,” Hayman said.

“Mourad was in a taxi on the way to the hotel and Jonny Wilkinson kicked a penalty and Delon Armitage scored a try to put us in front. 

“He then tells the taxi driver to do a U-turn, get back to the stadium and at the end of the game he’s running on the field with his arms in the air. 

“The other finals compared to that one were a little bit more straightforward,” he added.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, rugby’s stakeholders failed to agree on a global calendar to have fewer matches scheduled during a season.

“Is it feasible to play 10 months a year? Should rugby players be playing every weekend, every year for 10 months?” he said.

“I’ve got my opinions on that because I’ve been there and done it. 

“I think those discussions need to be had sooner rather than later otherwise it’s detrimental to the game,” he added.

In September, France host Hayman’s country in the Rugby World Cup’s opening game but the issue of concussion remains a cloud over the game.

“I don’t see it being wound up in five months but it would be great,” Hayman said.

“The sooner it can be acknowledged the better.

“At the moment, it’s a bit of an elephant in the room for the sport,” he added.

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