Millions more in taxpayer money will be spent on a rugby union safety programme - including a focus on the treatment of concussion.

ACC previously spent about $300,000 a year on the "Rugby Smart" programme, which aims to reduce the number and severity of injuries in the sport.

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ACC Minister Michael Woodhouse, a former top-level rugby referee, announced today funding would increased to $7 million over the next four years, or about $1.75m a year.


"Rugby is changing. Players are now bigger, fitter and faster, so it's important that our injury prevention initiative keeps pace with the modern game."

The programme will be expanded to six modules developed by NZ Rugby, including education that focuses on the contact areas of rugby and identifying and treating concussion.

"As a rugby player and referee I have seen how important it is for everyone involved in the game to know to warm-up properly and use appropriate techniques in situations such as scrums to prevent injury," Woodhouse said.

Last month the Herald on Sunday published figures showing the amount claimed for injuries suffered while playing rugby has increased every year since 2011, peaking at more than $76 million in 2015.

The ACC figures show concussion injuries have steadily increased from 1620 in 2012 to 2410 in 2015.

Over the past year, the Herald has been investigating the potential link between head injuries suffered in rugby and long-term cognitive difficulties.

In March last year it was revealed that at least five of the Taranaki Ranfurly Shield squad of 1964 had died or were suffering dementia-related illnesses, which the families believed could have been the result of multiple concussions suffered in their playing days.

Four of the 1967 All Blacks who toured the UK had suffered the same fate, including legendary flanker Waka Nathan.


Evidence is growing that concussion and sub-concussive blows cause chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease discovered post-mortem in many retired NFL players.

NZ Rugby has commissioned research to determine whether rugby players were more likely to be afflicted with dementia in later life.

Rugby Smart was first introduced in 2011.