In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Berrick Barnes and Concussion

To my genuine amazement, Berrick Barnes has been selected for the Australian RWC squad.

Not that he's not good enough as a player; he is.

But because back in May, he was forced to take an indefinite break from rugby because of repeated concussions and symptomatic head injuries. I wrote about it at the time.

Frankly, I think he's insane. I have no doubt he has medical clearance; were the Australian coaches to pick him for their RWC squad without a full all-clear would be negligent, even if it's over three weeks since his last concussion injury. However, as Chris Ashton's case back in November of last year - when he was given the all-clear to stay on the pitch, despite the referee's request, and subsequently admitted he had no memory whatsoever of the game after being concussed - shows, players can slip through that net.

Now, you could very reasonably say that that's his own call, and he voluntarily assumes that risk; which would be fair enough. In all the cases dealing with rugby, such as Agar v. Hyde, the point has been made about players accepting risks of playing; and, in a collision sport, accidents will happen and players will get concussed. You accept that risk when you play.

But, there is now a regulation for player safety which deals with this situation. That changes matters; not only do those regulations accept a duty of care to a player, but the referee now has to enforce those regulation on the pitch.

Berrick Barnes is a perfect example of a player who has had repeated concussion injuries, and who is as a result more vulnerable to other such injuries. The concussion regulations specifically mention this sort of player. And they make it clear that the referees have a duty, if in doubt, to order players like that to leave the field. Barnes is a centre, a position where high-impact collisions are unavoidable. So, almost certainly, there is going to be a stage where he is going to be examined for taking a knock to the head (hopefully, he won't take such a knock; but it's as well to be realistic).

And when he is, we will learn an awful lot about whether the IRB is going to enforce the concussion regulations properly and protect players from themselves.

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