Billy Guyton played for the Blues, Crusaders and Hurricanes

Former Super Rugby player Billy Guyton has become the first professional rugby union player to be confirmed to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

Guyton died in May 2023 at the age of 33 and his brain was donated to University of Auckland. Scientists at the university produced a report on Guyton’s brain and included were “changes consistent with CTE”. As thing stand CTE can only be diagnosed postmortem.

Associate Professor Michael Buckland diagnosed the CTE as stage two. This sits between mild and severe on the scale of the disease.

Guyton played for the Blues, Crusaders and the Hurricanes. He retired from rugby in 2018 after a number of concussions. His cause of death has not been publicly confirmed.

“We share the family’s concern at his diagnosis,” said New Zealand Rugby. “Any time the rugby community loses a member, especially someone as young and talented as Billy, it is felt deeply.

“NZR is concerned about the possibility that repeated head impacts during participation in rugby may contribute to neurodegenerative diseases in later life.”

Players are being diagnosed with suspected CTE after retiring. England Rugby World Cup winner Steve Thompson, All Black Carl Hayman and Wales international Alix Popham are among those diagnosed so far.

The three ex-players are on a list over hundreds suing  World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union for allegedly failing to protect players from repeated head knocks.

The lawyer representing the players, Richard Boardman of Rylands Garth, has said: “All who care about collision sports have to accept we will witness over the next few decades many more players dying prematurely from their neurodegeneration.

“Many more will be found to have, postmortem, CTE. There is an urgent need for these sports to limit the amount of contact players are sustaining over 30-game, 11-month seasons. Playing elite rugby is as dangerous for the brain as ever.”

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on FacebookInstagram and Twitter/X.