Page last updated at 14:41 GMT, Thursday, 6 November 2008

Rugby death 'a tragic accident'

Gareth Jones playing for Neath
As well as Neath, Gareth Jones also played for Beddau and his home town club Pontypridd

No-one was to blame for the death of an "exceptional" rugby player, who broke his neck in a match, an inquest heard.

Neath scrum half Gareth Jones, 28, was injured in a ruck in a match at Cardiff last April and died two months later.

Coroner Mary Hassell said it was a "tragic accident" and she did not think anything could be done to prevent a similar accident in future.

"It is a very physical sport. It's an exciting sport, but it is also dangerous," she said.

Medical staff treated Mr Jones on the Arms Park pitch for around 10 minutes during Premier Division match.

He was then transferred to the University Hospital of Wales Cardiff, where scans revealed a significant injury to his neck.

He remained in intensive care undergoing surgery for his injuries and medical complications. He died on 16 June.

It was so, so unlucky
Coroner Mary Hassell

Darren Ryan, who was playing for Cardiff RFC, said he was not aiming for Mr Jones, when he struck him in the shoulder and did not realise he had hit him until he fell to the floor.

He told Cardiff Corner's Court the fixture was a "big rival game" that passed without incident before Mr Jones was injured.

He said: "If I could turn back the clock I would, but I can't. I'm sorry for what has happened."

When asked by the coroner if he meant to injure Mr Jones, Mr Ryan replied: "No. Definitely not."

He said he entered the ruck in the way he had been taught and added: "The act is terrible. But it's the same thing I do whenever I play."

Gareth Jones playing for Neath
Gareth Jones 'was diminutive in stature but very strong'

Mr Ryan was not penalised for his actions, and no criminal charges were brought against him.

Neath RFC physiotherapist, Nicole Pickrel, was one of the first to attend Mr Jones on the pitch.

She said: "I approached him from his left side and he wasn't moving.

"I came to him and said 'what's the problem?'

"He said he couldn't feel his arms or his legs."

She said Mr Jones, who she described as "fit" and "tough", was conscious as he was stretchered off the pitch, and that she had tried to reassure him about his lack of sensation.

Welsh Rugby Union referee Nigel Whitehouse, who officiated at the match, told the hearing: "It was a tragic accident. Gareth was an exceptional rugby player.

"He was diminutive in stature but very strong."

'Physical sport'

Although another refereeing expert had said there had been a technical rule breach in terms of "binding on" in the ruck, it could happen in any game.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Ms Hassell said: "Any technical infringement of the laws of rugby is a very far cry from something that was either intentional, or so reckless or careless to amount to a criminal offence."

She added: "I'm not convinced that one can legislate for every situation that occurs on a rugby pitch.

"I'm not convinced that one can ensure that no injury can ever take place. It is a very physical sport. It's an exciting sport, but it is also dangerous."

She described the death as a "tragic accident".

Ms Hassell added: "It was one of those things that occasionally happens and seems beyond belief, because one moment everyone is enjoying an exciting game, and the next, a player is on his back unable to move his arms or legs.

"It was so, so unlucky."

The Pontypridd-born player was a well-known and popular figure in the south Wales club scene.

He previously played for Glyncoch, Beddau and Pontypridd, before making his debut for Neath against Newport in 2006.

He won a league title with the Welsh All Blacks and was also a Konica Minolta Cup winner with Pontypridd.

His family set up a memorial fund for his three children Courtney, Cole and Connie - the youngest only four months old when her father died.

Neath rugby club have also organised a number of fundraising events since his death.



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SEE ALSO
BBC Sport Wales coverage
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