"It's like you're betraying the club" - Jamie Cudmore on Clermont's reaction to his concerns over his concussion experience

Former Clermont player speaks to Off The Ball about what happened in 2015 and the aftermath

Jamie Cudmore, Clermont

Clermont’s Jamie Cudmore leaves the field injured ©INPHO/James Crombie

In recent times, Canada rugby player Jamie Cudmore has become an advocate for making the sport safer, particularly in the area of concussion.

The 38 year old Oyonnax player has experienced concussion as well as its worrying after effects.

While at French Top 14 club Clermont Auvergne, whom he represented for over a decade between 2005 and 2016, the versatile second and back row suffered concussions in European games in 2015.

Tonight he spoke to Off The Ball about the way in which the club responded to his concerns after he sent them a letter.

He began by explaining what happened after an accidental clash of heads with Billy Vunipola of Saracens resulted in a concussion during a European Champions Cup semi final in 2015.

"I was taken off originally for blood. As we clashed heads, we both got opened up pretty well," Cudmore recalls.

"I was taken off for blood and during that time the docs saw that I was pretty dazed."

He was then put through a HIA (Head Injury Assessment) to determine whether he had sustained concussion.

"I was told that I didn't pass and that my day was done," he continued.

"That's when the real problems started. Obviously, I was very, very upset and I wanted to play. Every rugby player wants to get back out there and do his best for the team. It's common for a lot of rugby players. You play through a lot of pain, whether it be shoulder, knee, bruising and even head injuries as well.

"For me at the time, I definitely didn't know the danger and you're thinking about getting out there and helping your team-mates. [The doctor] was very good and said 'no, your day's done' and I sat down and started taking off my boots. I was obviously very frustrated and was very upset and wanted to get out there and be part of this huge game. But he said 'that was it' and I was resigned to the fact that my day was done." 

But ultimately, his day was not done as circumstances on the field changed. 

Clermont Auvergne’s Jamie Cudmore ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

"I'd only got one boot off and he came running back in and said my second row partner was struggling and could I go back on. And I said 'yeah, of course, I'm ready to go', not really thinking of the danger I was putting myself in. I raced out there and finished the game." 

Following the concussion, Cudmore noted the ensuing symptoms as headaches, sleep problems and also went through testing. 

Clermont's win over Saracens meant they were due to play in an all French European Rugby Champions Cup final against Toulon two weeks after the semi final.

Cudmore ultimately played in that final, starting in the second row.

He realised that he would be allowed to play in that final at the "end of that first week" following the concussion.

"I did another baseline test which was a vast improvement at the end of the week on the Sunday to make sure that I was good to go for that following week, starting Monday. He deemed I was fit to play and I was allowed to get back on the field. I thought I was okay. He seemed to think I was okay. But in retrospect, it was definitely me wanting to play more than actually realising that I was actually fit to play," he said.

Cudmore was removed from the field in the final against Toulon following what had looked like an innocuous tackle. 

He passed the HIA which was carried out by another doctor and he was able to return to the field.

But he suffered a second clash of heads in the second half and was taken off for blood.

"During the stitching of my head, I started to become very nauseous and started vomiting in the changing room," he said. 

Clermont Auvergne’s Jamie Cudmore ©INPHO/Billy Stickland

Despite that, he was sent back onto the field once more with the doctor deeming that the vomiting was a result of stress rather than head injury related - even though Cudmore adds that he has never vomited or endured nausea in similar high pressure situations in his career. 

"For him to let me back on the field was a huge error," says Cudmore, who made it to the final whistle.

"It was the start of a pretty tough three or four months for me."

He describes the month of June after the May final as a very "dark time" where he only amassed two or three days of sleep and found himself becoming increasingly irritable.

However, Cudmore added that "we haven't yet taken legal action" despite reports - although he says that "it's definitely a possibility in the future".

"We want to work with Clermont, with clubs, with the FFR - all the different structures here in France because the main thing that's missing here is education," he said.

Cudmore remained upset with the turn of events and later drafted a letter with his lawyer outlining what had happened during the period when the head injuries occurred, emphasising that similar cases should not happen again in future.

"First response [from Clermont] was 'how dare you send us this letter to us. It's like you're betraying the club,'" said Cudmore.

"And this is me by myself with the general manager, the assistant manager, the coach and the two doctors in a room and basically everyone took a turn tearing a strip off me." 

He added that "the two doctors said I was lying".

Cudmore says he was disappointed by that reaction.