A study into the effects of regular concussion on the rugby pitch has revealed a potential link between concussions and brain function.

The study, conducted by Auckland University of Technology, was commissioned by World Rugby in response to fears over long-term brain injuries in high-impact sports, such as rugby or American football

The study involved 131 ex-players, 281 retired amateur players and 72 retired non-contact sports people. According to Professor Patria Hume, the findings showed a ‘statistically significant link between repeated concussion and brain damage’.

The number of reported concussions rose by 59% in 2013-14 compared with the previous season, according to the latest annual injury audit for English Rugby.

World Rugby has stated that it is difficult to draw robust conclusions from the study and further in-depth research is required.

In 2013, a landmark settlement for £490m was paid to NFL players who sued the league for concealing the risks of long-term brain damage associated with American football.

Lisa Gunner, a serious injury solicitor based in Thompsons Solicitors’ Bristol office, said: “While high-contact sports, like rugby, clearly carry an element of risk, these latest findings present a highly concerning angle relating to sports injuries which has yet to be fully explored.

“Having represented people who have suffered a sports injury that was not their fault, we know the impact it can have on people’s lives. It is absolutely essential that players are aware of any potential or long-term damage they may be doing to their health in engaging in a particular sport and are given the appropriate training so that they can enjoy the sport without risking their health.

“We will monitor developments in this field of research closely, and hope to see the findings lead to better protection for players of all high-contact sports.”