Rugby-Former Wallaby Faingaa to donate brain for concussion research

MELBOURNE, March 5 (Reuters) - Former Australia centre Anthony Faingaa has agreed to donate his brain to medical research on the effects of concussion once he dies, having retired last year on medical advice after suffering multiple concussions during his professional rugby career.

Faingaa, who was capped 23 times for the Wallabies from 2010-13, reckoned he had been concussed at least 50 times before he quit the game at the age of 32.

“I’ve talked it through with my wife and family and already signed the document to donate my brain to research when the time comes,” Faingaa said in comments published by News Ltd media on Thursday.

“It’s human to help and if I can help one person it will be worth it.”

A tough midfielder with a fearless approach to tackling, Faingaa was knocked unconscious during a match against the United States at the 2011 World Cup and on a number of occasions playing for the Queensland Reds in Super Rugby.

He said he had only fuzzy memories of being best man at the wedding of his twin brother and fellow Wallaby Saia Faingaa in the wake of a head-knock against New Zealand’s Super Rugby champions, the Canterbury Crusaders.

“It’s one of the hardest things for me to say but Saia’s big day is still a blur to me and he had to remind me where I put his wedding ring,” Faingaa said.

“I led with my head as a player.

“I was a low tackler at hips and knees, and if I’d take a knock, I’d say to myself: ‘Just harden up, you’re OK, play on’.

“If I’m really honest, 50 concussions is a bare minimum from my career and 10 of those were the ‘out cold’ type -- like the game against the USA at the 2011 World Cup.”

The long-term effects of repeated head-knocks in sport has been in the spotlight in Australia following the first diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a crippling brain disease that causes a type of dementia similar to Alzheimer’s, in a former Australian Rules footballer.

Global governing body World Rugby has implemented a slew of measures to protect players from head injuries in recent years, cracking down on high tackles and enforcing stiffer penalties.

Anthony Faingaa said playing top-level rugby was a “blessing” for him in giving him the skills and work ethic to succeed in his new career in insurance broking but he hoped more players would be “open” about their “head health”.

“This is going to be a huge conversation and I know of other players nearing the end of careers who have worries,” he said.

“All I can be is positive.”

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore