The Oxford Dictionary’s definition of concussion is a “temporary unconsciousness or confusion and other symptoms caused by a blow on the head”.
World Rugby have handled the George North debacle very poorly.
The controversy surrounding George North’s health began on the 6th of February 2015 at the Millennium Stadium against England.
Dave Attwood’s foot collided with North’s head while scrambling for a ball on the deck in the 29th minute. The winger was substituted and sent for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA). According to Welsh Rugby’s Medical Manager Prav Mathema the HIA was “deemed negative so (North) he returned to the field of play” just before half time.
60-minutes into the same game North, while tackling Mike Brown, was involved in a head collision with teammate Richard Hibbard. North was flung to the ground like a rag doll and appeared to be unconscious. Although having been examined by the medical team, who admittedly missed the incident, the winger was allowed to continue playing.
North was involved in a collision two minutes later from the restart and finished off the game.
Mathema explained that the medical team convenes after games to evaluate the video footage. During that viewing “it was clear to see he had a momentary loss of consciousness”.
Unconscious as a result of concussion, North was rested for the following fixture vs Scotland but returned to start the last three games.
On the 27th of March, Northampton played Wasps at Franklins’ Gardens. While dotting down over the try-line, Wasps’ number eight Nathan Hughes’ shin collided with North’s head. Again, George North was sprawled on the paddock, arms acting independently to his body, concussed.
As recently as the December 3, 2016, North was involved in an air collision with Leicester’s Adam Thompstone. North landed awkwardly and again, upon impact, his arms acted independently to his body. North was removed from the field of play to take part in a HIA. However the winger returned five minutes later after being deemed fit to continue.
In a post-match interview, Northampton’s Director of Rugby Jim Mallinder said (via The Telegraph) that the “the medical team were happy that he wasn’t concussed and therefore we carry on.”
North’s return to play caused outrage to those witnessing the incident both at the game and online. However, later that week, Mallinder admitted that North probably was concussed.
World Rugby initially responded by expressing its disappointment in Northampton’s “non-compliance with the sports elite head injury protocols.”
On Monday World Rugby announced that Northampton would face no further sanctions after failing to deal with the situation “appropriately”.
Where are the repercussions? Where are the sanctions? World Rugby’s lack of a meaningful response is disgraceful. It sets a worrying tone as North missed five months of action two years ago after suffering four concussions in the space of five months.
It was a missed opportunity to lay down a strict precedent. The new law changes help of course, but you cannot eliminate a risk of concussion altogether, and must have sanctions in place if protocol is broken.
Rugby Players Association
Christian Day, the Chairmen of the Rugby Players Association and North’s teammate at Northampton, decided to remain silent. Instead, he chose to complain about the introduction of new tackle laws mid-season and the difficulties players will face adapting to them. The governing bodies are ultimately responsible for the welfare of players within the game. Barry O’Driscoll, who was the former World Rugby’s medical adviser before resigning in 2012, has declared that World Rugby’s protocols are unfit for purpose.
This is the second time where George North alone has been allowed to continue play after suffering a concussion. Maybe O’Driscoll’s comments are warranted.
World Rugby’s stance, of not being angry, just “disappointed” is therefore simply not good enough.
Billy Keenan, Pundit Arena