The Game’s Gone Soft? A List of Rugby Players Forced to Retire Due to Brain Injuries

It’s a comment often heard on social media, by rugby commentators and even from players themselves – “the game’s gone soft”!

In fact, rugby at the top level has never been harder and by “harder” we mean more dangerous.

If you do hear the “game’s gone soft” comment again, please point the individual in the direction of this list, which is a compilation of players who have cited head traumas or brain injuries as the sole (or major contributing factor) to their retirement from rugby.

It doesn’t include those who are still playing rugby having suffered serious complications from head traumas (Halfpenny, North, Sexton, Brown etc), nor does it include those players that may not have been completely open about the reasons for their retirement.

If there are any players missing off this list please let us know and we will try and keep it up to date.

The threat of serious brain injuries from rugby incidents isn’t a hypothetical scenario; it’s real and the implications are visible now.

There are currently 53 players on this list.



Nic Berry (Wasps, Racing Metro, Queensland Reds) – Retired in 2012, aged 28.

A  “concussive episode” during the season opener against Harlequins has forced him to quit the game


Anthony Faingaa (Brumbies, Reds, Kintetsu Liners, Australia) – Retired in February 2019 aged 32.

The 32-year-old revealed the lingering effects of concussion were so bad he had to be held up at the altar at twin brother and fellow ex-Wallaby Saia’s wedding due to a head injury


Finlay Barnham (Leicester Tigers Academy, Nottingham) – Retired in 2015 aged 24.

Retired after taking medical advice following a six-month spell on the sidelines recovering from concussion


Mouritz Botha (Sharks, Saracens, Newcastle, England) – Retired in 2017 aged 35.

Retired on medical advice related to concussion


Peter Browne (Ulster, London Welsh, Harlequins, Newcastle) – Retired in 2018 aged 30.

Repeated concussions revealed his “increased propensity for concussion symptoms following any head injury”.


Alex Cheesman (Cornish Pirates) – Retired in 2018 aged 29.

Cheesman played 122 games for the Penzance-based side in six seasons, before being forced to retire after repeated concussions.


Shontayne Hape (Bath, London Irish, Montpellier, England) – Retired in 2014 aged 33.

Retired after repeated concussion incidents – more than 20 throughout his career.

Andy Hazell (Gloucester, England) – Retired in 2014 aged 35.

Forced to retire after failing to recover from a pre-season concussion injury


David Jackson (Nottingham) – Retired in 2013 aged 31.

Retired on medical grounds after suffering a head injury in pre-season training


Michael Lipman (Melbourne Rebels, Bristol, Bath, England) – Retired in 2012 aged 32.

Lipman admitted he’d had “possibly 30” concussions in a 12-year career


Kat Merchant (England Women) – Retired in 2014 aged 28.

Retired on medical advice, after sustaining a number of concussions during her career


Jon Pendlebury (Gloucester, Leeds Carnegie) – Retired in 2012 aged 29.

He commented that he had received a number of concussions during the season.



Petrus Hauman (Brive, Stade Aurillacois and Boland Cavaliers) –  Retired in 2018 aged 31 from repeated concussions


Marie-Alice Yahe (France Women’s captain) – Retired in 2014 aged 29, due to repeated concussion events




Declan Fitzpatrick (Ulster, Ireland) – Retired in 2015 aged 31 on medical advice after receiving a number of concussions


John Fogarty (Leinster, Ireland) – Retired in 2010 aged 33 as a result of difficulties brought about by repeated concussions


Bernard Jackman (Connacht, Leinster, Sale, Ireland) – Retired in 2010 aged 34 because of repeated concussion – Jackman had 20 over three seasons and estimated he was concussed 35-40 times in his career.


Ben Marshall (Leinster, Connacht, Emerging Ireland) – Retired in 2017 aged 26 on medical advice following a concussion injury


Kevin McLaughlin (Leinster, Ireland) – Retired in 2015 aged 31 on medical grounds after a neurologist raised concerns over issues related to concussion


Dave McSharry (Connacht) – Retired in 2016 aged 26 after suffering multiple concussions


Dominic Ryan (Leicester, Leinster, Ireland) – Retired in 2018 at 28 years old from “terrifying” concussion related health problems.


Nathan White (Waikato, Connacht, Ireland) – Retired in 2016 aged 35 from professional rugby on medical advice following a concussion he sustained in March 2016


Cillian Willis (Leinster, Connacht, Ulster, Sale) – Forced to retire in 2013 at 28 due to concussion


New Zealand

Ben Afeaki (Chiefs, New Zealand) – Retired in 2015 aged 27, with ongoing concussion symptoms following a head clash with team mate Brodie Retallick


Lee Allan (Otago, Highlanders) –  Retired in 2017 aged 25.

Allan was injured in early 2015 and missed all that season because of consussion. He came back in 2016 but after another couple of knocks, he ended his career at the end of that year.


Kane Barrett (Taranaki, Blues)  – took an elbow to the jaw while training with the Auckland Blues in March 2014 aged 22. He hasn’t played since.


David Briggs (Taranaki, Chiefs, Tonga) – Retired in 2017 aged 29.

“I had heaps of concussions. I suffered depression big-time from those head knocks. I don’t think I will ever be right. I accept I will have depression for the rest of my life and a lot of memory loss”


James Broadhurst (Taranaki, Canterbury, Hurricanes, New Zealand) – Retired in 2015 aged 29.

Broadhurst called it a day on rugby after being badly concussed in the Taranaki v Wellington provincial clash in August 2015


Dan Bowden (multiple clubs including Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders) – Retired in 2018 aged 32.

He mentioned that he had “struggled with concussions” in his statement explaining his retirement


Shane Christie (Highlanders) – forced to retire in May 2018 aged 32 due to ongoing symptoms from a concussion he suffered back in 2016


Craig Clarke (Chiefs, Connacht) – Retired in 2013 at 30 after suffering his 10th concussion in 22 months


Shane Cleaver (Taranaki, Chiefs) – Retired in 2013 aged 26 due to concussion complications


Steve Devine (Auckland, Blues, New Zealand) – Retired in 2007 aged 30.

Devine suffered numerous concussions during his decade long career which resulted in specialists advising the 30-year-old that it was time to give up the game


Jason Eaton (Hurricanes, La Rochelle, New Zealand) – Retired in 2018 aged 35.

Eaton suffered a head knock playing against Clermont in 2018 and has decided to retire at the end of this season because his symptoms haven’t improved.


Reggie Goodes (Wellington, Hurricanes) – Retired in 2018 aged 26 on medical advice after suffering multiple concussions


Leon MacDonald (Canterbury, Crusaders, New Zealand) –  Retired in 2010 aged 32.

MacDonald was prompted to retire due to a serious concussion, suffered playing for Kintetsu in a pre-season game in Japan


Sean Polwart (Auckland, Blues and Chiefs) – Retired in 2017 aged 26.

Polwart announced his retirement from rugby because of a concussion received on the training field in February 2015


Mark Reddish (Harlequins, Wellington, Hurricanes, Highlanders) – Retired in 2017 aged 32 from rugby for medical reasons after suffering a concussion


Jayden Spence (Otago, Union Bordeaux Begles) – Retired in 2018 aged 26 after suffering a number of concussion issues


Dan Waenga (Chiefs, Biarittz) – Retired in 2016 aged 31.

Waenga played his last game in 2015 and retired after medical advice following  12 concussion incidents

Dan describes some of his symptoms at the bottom of the article below, which included depression, anxiety and sleeping up to 18 hours a day.–biarritz-olympique-victime-commotion-cerebrale-dan-waenga-prendre-retraite-2108151033.php


South Africa

Alistair Hargreaves (Sharks, Saracens, South Africa) – Retired in 2016 aged 30 after suffering “a number of concussions” in the last couple of seasons


Patrick Lambie (Racing 92, Sharks, South Africa) – Retired in January 2019 aged 28 following a number of concussion incidents.




Robson Blake (Dragons, Bedwas) – Retired in 2018 at 23 years old after a 6 month long battle with concussion.


Adam Hughes (Dragons, Bristol, Exeter) – Retired in 2018 aged 28.

“A neurologist said that playing rugby wasn’t an option due to two major trauma scars that I had sustained on my brain”


Ben John (Ospreys) – retired in January 2019 at 27 years old after failing to recover from 3 serious head injuries over 12 months, including a mid air collision with Steff Evans in 2017


Matthew Pewtner (Dragons) – Retired in 2016 aged 25 after the player failed to recover from a head injury


Ashley Smith (Dragons) – Retired in 2015 aged 28 after suffering a “series of concussive events”


Jonathan Thomas (Ospreys, Worcester, Wales) – Retired in 2015 at the age of 32 after being diagnosed with epilepsy that is thought to have been brought on from multiple head traumas


Rory Watts Jones (Cardiff Blues) – Forced to retire in 2015 through concussion aged 26


Other Nations

Ben Bolger (UAE) – Retired in 2017 aged 28 after suffering 2 head injuries in 2 weeks


Aaron Carpenter (Coventry, Plymouth Albion, Cornish Pirates, London Welsh,  Doncaster, Canada) – Retired in 2018 aged 34 after a number of head injuries


Ryan Hamilton (Canada) – Retired in 2015 aged 26.

Neck injuries and a “history of concussions” led to his retirement.


Cameron Pierce (Pau, Canada) – Retired in 2017 at 25 years old.

Twitter profile states “rugby player retired from concussions”



Distribution by year:

2019: 3
2018: 12
2017: 8
2016: 5
2015: 9
2014: 5
2013: 4
2012: 3
2011: 0
2010: 3
2009: 0
2008: 0
2007: 1


Note: Jared Payne retired from Ulster and Ireland duty in May 2018 through complications leading from a head injury suffered on the 2017 British and Irish Lions tour.

Ulster’s then Director of Rugby, Les Kiss stated that the episodes were not “concussion-related”, so until further information to contradict this becomes available, Payne will not be listed as retiring from concussion related events.


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5 thoughts on “The Game’s Gone Soft? A List of Rugby Players Forced to Retire Due to Brain Injuries

  1. I see I made the list, you are missing Adam Whitelock of New Zealand/Bayonne France and Ryan Hamilton of Rugby Canada is also one to have retired a few years ago now.


    • Thanks Cameron. I have added Ryan to the list but I’m struggling to find an article that says Adam Whitelock retired because of concussions.

      Would you have a link to an article? He doesn’t seem to be on social media, so I can’t contact him directly.


  2. Thanks Cameron. I have added Ryan to the list but I’m struggling to find an article that says Adam Whitelock retired because of concussions.

    Would you have a link to an article? He doesn’t seem to be on social media, so I can’t contact him directly.


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