Rugby Union

Rugby Union putting lives at risk with lack of action on concussion

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England prevailed in a pulsating Six Nations opener against Wales on Friday night - but it was the lack of treatment given to George North when he suffered a clear concussion that really should catch the eye.

It's easy to forget that the Northampton winger hit the deck with some serious force during England's 21-16 comeback win at the Millennium Stadium, with big hits and some impressive play from Stuart Lancaster's side the order of the day.

Player safety neglected?

However, player safety should always be a priority in the modern game. As players get stronger in the professional game, the tackles just keep getting more violent.

Collision is the buzz word in rugby union right now, and that's exactly what happens. Two people or more travelling at speed into each other - someone is always likely to get hurt.

The National Football League is certainly aware of the problem, and now have clear concussion protocol when a player appears to suffer an injury of this nature. They are checked and either given the green light to return by an independent doctor, or sit out the rest of the game.

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Closer to home, and the Rugby Football League have taken clear action on the issue of concussions this season.

Anyone who saw Widnes draw with Wigan Warriors in the Super League opener on Thursday night will have noticed that players left the field with significant regularity in an attempt to deal with the problem. It's a proactive response.

Rugby League response

Rules passed back in December allow teams to make free interchanges when a referee deems a player has suffered a possible concussion. They are checked and, like in the NFL, can return if they pass the tests. It's all been designed with an aim of safeguarding the players.

That's certainly something that was not in evidence in Cardiff last night, as North fell to the ground in one of the stadium's four corners. The TV replay suggested he was in trouble, and BBC co-commentator Brian Moore highlighted immediately that it appeared to be concussion.

And yet, when the camera returned from the earlier footage, North was stood with hands on hips on the opposite wing. Incredible bravery.

Foolish responses

That's the kind of non-sense phrase that is going to end up with someone seriously injured - possibly even worse, dead.

There is little doubt that North is a brave, courageous rugby player. You have to be both to go toe-to-toe with other beasts who play the game. But when it comes to concussion, the decisions must be taken out of the hands of players.

The night before, Josh Charnley - an England winger with a reputation that continues to grow - was not allowed to return in the aforementioned Rugby League match. You'd bet good money that he wanted to return. The same is true of countless NFL players who are taken out of big games by doctors and professionals.

Impartial decisions?

It is not in a team's interest to remove a top player. They aren't intentionally putting a player's life in danger, but if they say they are 'good to go', why would they not believe them? Would the Welsh staff willingly take North - arguably their star player - out of such a big game?

“They wouldn’t have let him back on the field unless they felt 100% confident that he was okay, so you’ve got to back your medical team and I haven’t spoken to them about it. George seems fine,” said Gatland post-match, according to The Guardian.

“He passed all the protocols first time. We’ll have to see how he is over the next few days.”

This is not a finger point at Warren Gatland's team and their neglect for a player. England would have done the same. But the fact that North is a major doubt for the game against Scotland because of concussion is telling.

The problem and solution is clear - more rugby players are suffering concussions, and independent assessment must take place to get the right results.

Bad example

Once action is taken at the top level, the response can filter down to the lower levels. How many concussions go unnoticed and untreated at the grass roots of rugby union?

The example being set on the international stage is simply not good enough, and it doesn't just put the lives of the top players in danger. The lack of treatment given to George North highlights a problem that is significant and potentially life-threatening in rugby.

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