Watch Cari Davies report
Rugby legend Phil Vickery has revealed he has undergone initial tests to see if the sport has caused lasting damage to his brain.
The World Cup winner has spoken exclusively to ITV News West Country about his own experiences following the news his teammate Steve Thompson has early onset dementia at the age of just 42.
Thompson no longer has any recollection of the matches he played during the 2003 World Cup winning effort.
So severe is his case, he previously told ITV News he wished he had never played the professional game - and he is now part of a group of players who have launched legal action against rugby authorities.
While Vickery says he would not change a thing about his career, he also revealed he has undergone initial tests to find out if the game he played professionally for 15 years has caused lasting damage to his brain.
He said his “heart sank” when he heard the news about Thompson, adding: “We competed at the highest level together, won a Rugby World Cup together, and have some magical memories that should never be taken away - and Steve can’t remember those bits.
“I’m a rugby fan, I’m hugely passionate about my sport, but I’m also a human being and to think about the issues which are coming out, particularly Steve, it’s heart-wrenching for me.
“I want to be here to support him and make a difference.”
Vickery grew up in Bude and went on to play for Gloucester for 11 years. He made 73 appearances for England and at one point was nicknamed 'The Raging Bull'.
He now admits his time playing with the intensity he did took its toll - but says he is not looking for someone to blame.
But he does believe long-lasting injuries like Steve Thompson’s are “a worry for everyone".
He said: “It's a worry for me, I’ve undergone some tests, and undoubtedly I’ve been affected by the game I’m sure and we’ll have to wait and see what the future holds on that.
“I’ve no doubt that rugby has had an affect on me.
“I think there will probably be hundreds if not thousands of girls and boys up and down the country who’ve been affected by the game.”
The 44-year-old now runs a restaurant in Cheltenham but remains a staunch rugby fan.
He says he wants to protect the game he loves while also helping to protect the players of the future.
He said: “If this is going to turn into a blame game, no one will win. It’s not about blaming and I think the clubs are doing everything they can.
“But there has to be some accountability, what’s happened to Steve and the players is not right in anyone’s book.
“If you’re going to sit there and pretend that there’s not an issue then we will just self-implode, I’ll disown myself from the sport.
“I don’t know where the answers lie other than that we’ve started this conversation and we need to have these conversations.“
What RFU CEO Bill Sweeney has said
In a statement, the RFU said: “The RFU works hard to manage the risk involved in the contact nature of rugby, particularly for young people and takes player safety very seriously. It implements injury prevention and injury treatment strategies based on the latest research and evidence.
"We have implemented training and best practice across the game and our approach to head injury assessments and concussion protocols has led to many other team sports adopting our guidance. We will continue to use the latest evidence and research to keep improving."