FORMER Wales rugby international Alix Popham has said government could have to step in if the game’s governing bodies don’t address concussions. 

The retired flanker and number eight, who started his professional career with Newport RFC, revealed in 2020 he had been diagnosed with probable CTE and early onset dementia due to traumatic brain injury suffered in his 13-year career which saw him win 33 caps for his country. 

Nearly 300 ex-players, including Wales internationals and England World Cup winners, are part of legal action against the international game’s governing body World Rugby, England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) over brain injuries. 

Mr Popham, who was one of the first high profile players to reveal his diagnosis and speak out about its impact, said making the game safer is the responsibility of governing bodies. 

But said if they fail to do so action from government could be required – and stressed the importance of ensuring players, and parents of young players, are aware of the risks and how to respond to concussions. 

He said: “I think it could come down to that (political action) if World Rugby don’t make the changes that need to be made but I still love rugby, I want it to carry on but players, mums and dads need to know the truth. If it doesn’t happen from World Rugby, and doesn’t filter down (to the unions) I think the government will step in, but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.” 

Rest of up to four weeks after concussions is important, said Mr Popham, as well as reducing contact such as in training and while he wouldn’t want parents discouraged from allowing children to play the sport said brain injuries should be “respected”. 

He added: “Just because you can’t see it it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.” 

The former international, who also played for Llanelli Scarlets, was speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service after attending the Welsh Conservatives general election campaign launch in Monmouthshire where he now lives. 

Welsh secretary David Davies and Senedd group leader Andrew RT Davies addressed party members at the event that Mr Popham attended with Rynard Landman, who enjoyed a professional rugby career in his home country of South Africa before joining Newport-based Dragons in 2014 and who has also made his home in Monmouthshire. 

Both players said politics is a rarely discussed topic in the changing room but wanted to show their individual support for the Conservatives. 

Mr Popham, who confirmed he intends voting Tory in July, said: “I’m living here now with a young family I want some change for my children for their futures.” 

South Wales Argus: Alix Popham celebrating with a teammate while playing for Wales, lifting the Welsh Cup at the Millennium Stadium with Newport and Rynard Landman.Alix Popham celebrating with a teammate while playing for Wales, lifting the Welsh Cup at the Millennium Stadium with Newport and Rynard Landman. (Image: PA / South Wales Argus/ Archive)

Former Wales coach Mike Ruddock helped Welsh Labour launch its manifesto for the 2005 general election – when Tony Blair won an historic third term for the party – months after leading Wales to a first grand slam in 27 years and said he’d “always supported Labour”. 

Mr Popham joked he hadn’t won as many caps as he “should have” during the Blaina coach’s tenure but said he was unaware of his politics: “It’s not chatted about in the changing room.” 

Mr Landman, who had voted in this week’s South African general election, said he wanted to be involved in the “community and a little bit of the politics and my little one was born in Cardiff, he’s going to grow up Welsh, so I just want a secure future for him education wise.” 

The former forward has played alongside Ashton Hewitt, from Newport, who has used social media to address issues around racism and to encourage social change but has said a backlash from trolls online had also got him down. 

His former Dragons teammate Mr Landman said: “If you speak about what you believe in, it just shows your character and the person who you are.  

South Wales Argus: Alix Popham (left) and Rynard Landman sharing a joke.Alix Popham (left) and Rynard Landman sharing a joke. (Image: LDRS)

“Obviously there will be haters, everything you do there will be haters. Alix had people that didn’t rate him as a rugby player and I’ve had people that didn’t rate me as a rugby player you get that everywhere and the same comes with politics. Just say what you believe in, stand for it and be yourself and be your own person.” 

Welsh secretary Mr Davies welcomed the support of both Mr Popham and Mr Landman and said the general election campaign would resemble Wales’ Six Nations game with Scotland this year, when Wales trailed by 20 points at half time. 

“The last time I saw an international it was Wales v Scotland and all the action was in the second half, that’s what will happen in this election,” Mr Davies told the event but didn’t mention, despite the second half come back, it till finished in a 26 to 27 defeat.