Professional rugby is unsafe in its current format, according to a new study by The Drake Foundation.
Athletes who can be as tall as six foot eight inches and as wide as 26 stone are leaving the sport due to structural changes to their brains caused by high tackles, the Foundation has said.
The Drake Foundation say that medical evidence and recent cases’ of brain abnormalities among stars foreshadows a concerning future for the sport.
Mr Drake told MailOnline: “We believe that elite rugby, in its current format, is an unsafe sport.
“The long-term consequences of these brain structure abnormalities are unknown and require further research.
“But taken together with existing evidence across different sports, as well as recent cases of rugby players being diagnosed with brain diseases in their 40s, they are painting a concerning picture when it comes to players’ long-term brain health.”
He added: “Players are getting bigger, impacts are becoming harder, so it is only right that we see meaningful changes to rugby to ensure that player welfare is the number one priority for the sport.”
Drake cited head impacts in the matches as a cause for concern, including Dan Biggar being kneed in the ruck.
The Drake Foundation’s calls to improve the safety of the game follow the release of a report on the topic.
The report involves the Rugby Football Union in England which found that 23 per cent of 44 elite stars between 2017 and 2019 had experienced changes to their brains.
The study, published last month, said rugby players had abnormalities to the white matter and changes in the white matter volume – white matter is important for cognitive ability.
It also found that half of the rugby players involved had an unexpected reduction in brain volume.
Professor of Medical Imaging Science at University College London, Derek Hill, said to MailOnline that brain differences may not mean damage.
“A longer study would be needed to determine if the brain changes lead to harmful long term effects,” Professor Hill said.
Drake noted that the sport has changed completely since becoming professional in the 1990s, with players now taller and bulkier.
“Players are now generally bigger and more powerful, so we have to be mindful of all the ramifications that increased impacts will have on their bodies.
“Seeing younger players suffer with the consequences of that, I am not convinced that the game is safer now than it was when I started The Drake Foundation in 2014.
“More must be done to protect players, and without delay.”