THE Scotland Women rugby squad have confirmed their support for head coach Bryan Easson and their faith in their medical team, ahead of tomorrow [Saturday] afternoon’s World Cup warm-up match against the USA at the DAM Health Stadium.
Easson and team doctor Carrie McCrae were the focus of fierce criticism from the parents of Siobhan Cattigan – the Scotland forward who died last November – during a recent interview in the Sunday Times newspaper. It was argued that the pair failed in their duty of care to Cattigan as her mental health deteriorated following two serious concussions during the 14-month period between February 2020 and April 2021.
Neil and Morven Cattigan say that their daughter did not get proper treatment for those brain injuries and believe that those injuries caused personality changes akin to dementia, leading to a point where “she could no longer live with the pain in her head” and “succumbed to an irrational thought and impulsive action”.
The Cattigan’s issued a further statement earlier today [Friday] calling for the Scottish Rugby Union to launch an independent inquiry into the affair and accusing the organisation of “attempting to erase Siobhan from history”.
That was just over an hour before the players broke their silence on the matter for the first time since 29 members of the squad shared identical tweets distancing themselves from a news article published on this site last Thursday, which contained comments supportive of Easson and McCrae made in their name by Bill Mitchell (the chief executive of RPS, the association which represents Scotland’s professional rugby players).
The tweet stated: “As a squad we were never aware of this RPS article being published or the statements attributed to the team in this article. We are grieving our friend and teammate, our thoughts are with Siobhan’s family.”
At today’s press conference, ostensibly held to announce the Scotland team for tomorrow’s match versus the USA, vice-captain Helen Nelson and senior player Sarah Law delivered a printed statement to attending journalists, before fielding questions alongside Easson.
The statement said: “As players, we would like to clarify that we have never proactively spoken to the media in regards to the passing of our teammate Siobhan Cattigan. This is a stance we wish to maintain in order to respect her family, our management and the SRU. We are hurting and each time an article is written we have to relive that hurt.
“The statement we made on social media on Thursday 18th August 2022 was not to speak for or against the contents of the original RPS article (which has since been edited under the same URL) but to highlight that it was not a direct communication from our squad.
“We are focusing on the World Cup, supported by our medical and management team, and led by Bryan as our head coach, who has our full support heading into the tournament.
“Shibby [Cattigan] was a kind and loving teammate, a fierce competitor and above all a great friend. We are committed to continuing her legacy into the World Cup in New Zealand and beyond.”
Note: the only change made to the article published on this site was two sentences added at the end last Friday morning recognising the players’ tweets.
Mitchell, who has been the focus of some furious online criticism during the last week, has maintained that he was acting in good faith, believing that he was speaking on behalf of the players with their full knowledge and support.
Nelson described the situation as a “communication breakdown” but insisted that speaking to the press was never discussed by the group before the article appeared.
“Bill is someone that … we have a rep we speak to in that communication bit, but as a group we’ve never chosen to speak directly on that,” she said. “We never wanted our thoughts and opinions out there, just for respect of Siobhan’s family.”
“We met as a group [of players], and recognised maybe there had been miscommunication,” Nelson added later in the press conference.
“Our tweets were never to agree or disagree with the content [of the article], it was purely that we were frustrated that it wasn’t our direct communication.”
“I think on this issue we would have expected to be consulted fully before an article had appeared, and given some notice,” added Law.
Pressed on whether she thought Mitchell’s position had become untenable, Nelson replied: “That’s not my decision to take. It will take time to rebuild that relationship with RPS, but as a players’ group we are working on that.”
Meanwhile, Easson was asked for his reaction to the allegations made against him. “First of all, I would like to say it has been a difficult time for everyone and my sincere condolences are always with Siobhan and her family,” he replied. “These allegations have been very difficult for all involved in this squad, myself, the players, the squad, our families.
“Around the allegations of me trying to get Siobhan on the field [after she suffered a concussion whilst playing against Wales in April 2021], I would like to say in the newspaper article I denied that and I will continue to deny that, and the players and management who were also near that have also asked been asked the question and they never heard that.
“To give you some clarity, Siobhan was brought off the field with a head injury and rightly so. When the player is taken off, they are taken into an environment where an independent doctor deals with that head injury assessment. In that assessment it is important that that independent doctor has a quiet space to allow the player to be able to pass or fail an HIA which is the important thing for us to discuss.
“When the player comes out of that head injury assessment, whether they have passed or not, my communication is to ask our team doctor if the player is okay to go back on? The communication is led by medics to coaches, it is not coaches leading. The medics will speak to me around that and the communications would be with the team manager around whether we need to bring the player back off the pitch so the next player can go on.”
It was also alleged that Cattigan was told that there was no room for anxiety within the squad during last September’s World Cup qualifying tournament in Italy.
“We have a large playing group, a leadership group, if there was any concerns around that environment we would review that,” said Easson. “I have, as you see in the statement, full support from the players. They have no concern over the way I run the programme. I have always been ‘person first-player second’ and I will continue to be like that.”
The Cattigan statement, which was issued to The Times newspaper and the BBC, said: “As an international rugby player, we are firm in our belief that Siobhan was not given the support and assistance she required in the aftermath of injuries she suffered both during training and rugby games.
“We believe she suffered undetected brain damage caused by repetitive brain injuries received on the rugby field — which led to a significant and catastrophic decline in her health.
“Further, if Siobhan’s welfare [had been] prioritised and had been referred for scans/neurology at any point during her illness, we believe she would still be with us. We also feel that the SRU has been callous and uncaring in its treatment of our family since Siobhan’s death. They have attempted to erase Siobhan from history, our beautiful, precious child.
“No one from the SRU has been in direct contact with us since February, and the organisation is now taking active steps to discredit our version of events. This was clear at the recent press conference, the transcript of which shows senior SRU personnel being evasive and unable to answer basic questions about how Siobhan and her family were treated. Siobhan was one of ‘their people’ but, rather than the inconvenience of a review, we have a life sentence ahead of us.
“We were further dismayed to see the article in The Offside Line which claimed the Scottish Women’s Team had given their support to the SRU head coach and medical staff in relation to the way Siobhan was treated.
“However, no players were quoted — and they have made it clear through a shared statement that they were not contacted ahead of the article or agreed with the statements attributed to them. We are thankful to the players for speaking out and making clear they want no part of this — and to everyone who has sent supportive messages, comments and donated to Siobhan’s legacy.
“It is worth noting that Siobhan herself was a paid-up member of the RPS, yet there was no contact with Siobhan when she was ill, or ourselves after her passing.
“We earnestly hope the numerous changes implemented in the women’s game since Siobhan’s passing continue and that lessons are learnt. Siobhan would want safety and welfare prioritised for all those who follow on from her, she lived her life supporting and being a listening ear to others and we would like her legacy continued. If this is taken to court, then, as we have stated before, any settlement will go into a foundation in Siobhan’s memory.
“We would like to reiterate that we would give anything to have our precious girl back. We will grieve for ever because we will love her for ever.
“Our hope is that the SRU will concentrate on embedding positive changes in the wake of Siobhan’s death — and start showing compassion and dignity to respect her memory and our grief. An independent inquiry would be a good place to start.”