Concussion activists have suggested that rugby union head injury assessment process he is not fit for purpose after Ireland selected Johnny Sexton to start against New Zealand a week after the veteran fly-half was helped off the field in the first Test.
Sexton failed his first initial head injury evaluation (HIA) identifying a suspected concussion at Eden Park following a collision with Sam Cane, but was allowed to play because he passed the second most substantive HIA later that night and then a third in the next few days that is aimed at ruling out or ruling out a concussion. Therefore, the player was considered unconcussed.
Under current protocols, despite World Rugby introducing longer rest times for players like Sexton who have a history of head injuries, that’s enough for a player to come through fit.
Progressive Rugby, which is campaigning for greater concussion awareness in the sport, believes the best course of action would have been to err on the side of caution regarding Sexton.
“Elite players who fail an HIA1 in-game, by definition, display cognitive dysfunction that requires removal,” a spokesperson for the organization said.
“In our opinion, this is sufficient evidence, regardless of subsequent testing, to exercise extreme caution for the sake of your short-term and long-term health.
“This precaution should be further amplified in players with a history of brain injury, as the evidence is that they are at higher risk for more concussions and other injuries.”
In the HIA protocol as a whole, Progressive Rugby was more scathing. Just last week, following a review of the incident by New Zealand Rugby, it was found that Ireland prop Jeremy Loughman should not have returned to the pitch after he staggered to the ground during a midweek match against the Maori All Blacks. However, having passed his HIA1, Loughman returned.
“Sadly, the HIA is being exposed,” Progressive Rugby added. “Last week, the process again failed to diagnose a clear and obvious brain injury. [Loughman]while three days later they tell us that he has identified a ghost [Sexton].
“The fact is that there is no test left by any expert that can show that a brain has healed and is not at risk of further damage.
“As such, if player welfare is truly the game’s number one priority, the only option should be to err on the side of caution; otherwise, the new elite protocols are failing their key purpose.”
World Rugby has been contacted for comment.
Earlier this week, after showing concussion symptoms at half-time in the first Test against Australia, Tom Curry was replaced and later dropped from the England tour.
The Rugby Football Union explained: “It has been agreed that, in the interest of the player’s welfare and recovery, he will take no further part in the tour and will return home for ongoing assessment and ongoing management.