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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Concussion update - Warburton, Lipman and Concussion Bins

"Everyone's getting bigger, stronger and faster, [but] the brain's the brain, if you drop a computer that many times eventually it's not going to turn back on."

I wish, fervently wish, that I did not have to keep revisiting this issue. But, alas, it keeps on coming up.

In the last month, the IRB announced it was going to trial concussion bins - not dissimilar to a blood bin - at the Under-20 Rugby World Cup in South Africa. It was an excellent idea, not one that I recall having to be used on the squelchy pitches of a winter Stellenbosch, but a definite step forward.

However, it then followed up with a step backwards on-pitch. You will recall that, in the Rugby World Cup final, Morgan Parra of France appeared to be concussed - was certainly showing symptoms of concussion - left the pitch then came back on only to get concussed again and have to leave the pitch. It was in breach of the IRB Concussion Regulations, and downright dangerous. The failure of referee Craig Joubert to enforce the Regulations attracted comment on this blog and elsewhere.

You will also recall that, back in February, Wales openside and captain, Sam Warburton said that he was getting headaches for days after games - concussion symptoms. Again, nothing came of it.

In the third Australia-Wales test, refereed by Joubert, Warburton took a huge hit to the head from a knee, which you can see from various angles HERE, HERE and HERE (once more, the work by the poster Snedds on the Gwlad rugby forum in compiling this archive of clips is invaluable as a resource), and was unmoving for a while and wobbly on his feet when getting up - concussion symptoms under the Regulations. Warburton was not removed from play as the Regulations would require, but despite playing on, was clearly and visibly not right. Ten minutes later, Warburton was on all fours, being sick, as you can see HERE.

So, a referee with a record of leaving concussed players on the pitch in defiance of the Regulations did not comply with the duty to apply Regulations made for player safety in the case of a concussed player with a history of concussion symptoms. That sort of persistent refusal apply the laws made for player safety is asking for trouble.

One has the contrast of Kieran Read of the All Blacks being rested because of sustaining a second concussion in two weeks, even with the clearance periods (that the All Blacks could then move Richie McCaw to 8 and bring in his 20 year-old MiniMe Sam Cane shows why, even when you admire NZ rugby as much as I do, it's hard to love an opposition with that sort of limitless depth. Just a small bit of weakness like the rest of us would be so much more endearing). But the real lesson was in case of Michael Lipman.

Lipman, late of Bath and the Melbourne Rebels, had to retire this last week, after sustaining over 30 concussions in his professional career (which career spans more or less the time period since concussion was first being managed properly in New Zealand, and the last five years of which post-date the reported study on the success of that concussion management regime). He is now, it would seem, permanently symptomatic as a result, judging from the litany of symptoms he talks about in that article. The quotation at the start of this post is from him, and it reflects the simple truth of the matter.

The Concussion Regulations are in place for a reason, and that reason is to protect players. If those with a duty of care towards players, like referees, persist in refusing to apply those rules of the game, then players will get hurt, and those players who end up with symptoms for the rest of their lives as a result of that failure will, sooner or later, sue. No-one wants that, but it is coming, and coming closer each time a referee fails to do what he or she is supposed to do. There is no down-side in applying the Regulations, which makes that failure all the more baffling.

So, to once again make the plea: for the sake of the game, of the referees, and the players, please - apply the Regulation and do not let concussed players keep playing to get hurt worse.

Because sooner or later, not applying them will turn out to be much the more painful option, for all concerned.

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