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More TV Replay Needed to Identify Rugby Head Injuries

By Principal Lawyer, Serious Injury

Rugby Union’s international governing body, World Rugby, has raised the prospect of making video replays available for pitch-side doctors.

Calls to expand TV replays came after Wales’s medical staff were widely criticised for allowing George North to play on against England after the winger suffered two separate blows to the head in their 21-16 RBS Six Nations Championship defeat in Cardiff.

The suspected concussion injury George North suffered whereupon he appeared to be momentarily unconscious following a clash of heads in the 61st minute of the game looks set to instigate a significant change to the way top-level rugby handles such incidents going forward.

Wales, who have admitted that they made the wrong decision on keeping North on the field, have since insisted that they did not have a clear view of the incident and had video technology been available, the winger would have been replaced.

Video technology is currently only available to television match officials. Although Wales have now arranged for replays to be made available to their medical staff for the rest of their Six Nations campaign, World Rugby have taken the initiative a step further by calling for the expansion of video technology at elite level beyond the tournament to identify head injuries as they happen.

Any impact to the head could involve a potential brain injury and there is no question whatsoever that George North should have been removed from the game as he was clearly unconscious following his collision with team-mate Richard Hibbard.

The World Rugby head injury protocol clearly states that any player who shows “any visible symptoms or suspicion of a potential concussion” should be immediately and permanently removed from the game.

Although the Welsh medical team acted within the limited information they had at the time, it is clear rugby concussion protocols need to change and that North would have been taken off the pitch had instant video replays been available to Wales’s medical staff.

World Rugby has accepted that Wales’s medical staff did not see the incident and Wales Rugby Union will not face sanctions.

Pitch-side medical teams have an obvious duty of care to their players and need to have every means of support available to them, especially when it comes to identifying head injuries as they happen on the pitch. Video review technology should be made available to medical staff at all elite-level competitions.

Rugby is becoming more aware to the issue of concussion and the long-term implications for the brain as the game continues to get more and more physical and the impacts between players more severe.

It is heartening that Wales’s failure to remove George North from the pitch attracted such criticism. Concussion injuries in sport should never be taken lightly and we need a complete culture change in regard to improving attitudes to head injuries and the way concussion is managed in the professional game.

Carol Hopwood is a Senior Personal Injury Lawyer specialising in Brain Injury claims at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

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