Ireland captain Johnny Sexton insisted he is “fine” and passed head injury tests “with flying colors”, as he allayed concerns about his selection for Saturday’s second test against New Zealand.
The influential fly-half failed an on-field assessment during the first half of last weekend’s 42-19 First Test loss to the All Blacks and left the field without returning.
Head coach Andy Farrell’s decision to pick his skipper for the next installment of the series in Dunedin has been questioned in some quarters, including security campaign group Progressive Rugby.
However, Sexton, who had hoped to return to Auckland after taking the knock getting into New Zealand captain Sam Cane, downplayed fears surrounding his fitness.
“You go in for a HIA (head injury assessment) and you don’t come back, everyone assumes it’s a concussion but it’s not,” he said, according to the Irish Times.
“It is only, if there is a suspicion (concussion) or if there is any doubt about the player.
“And obviously the independent doctor felt for some reason, my reaction to the hit or if it was one or two little things in the test, but anyway, that’s history now.
“I went to tryouts hoping to come back and they wouldn’t let me, which is fair enough, that’s what it’s there for.
“It’s there to protect the players if a concussion is suspected, so they don’t get close, and that’s what happened with the independent doctor.
“As frustrating as it was for me at the time, it’s just life. Yeah go ahead I did all the tests and obviously it passed all of them with flying colors. I look forward to this week.”
Sexton, who turns 37 on Monday, has battled headbutts and the perception surrounding them throughout his career.
World Rugby protocols state that an in-game head injury assessment, known as the HIA One test, advises whether a player should sit out the remainder of the match as a precaution, but does not confirm a concussion.
If, as in the case of Sexton, a player passes the second and third evaluations within 36 hours of the match, they are deemed not to have a confirmed concussion and are therefore available for the next game.
Progressive Rugby said the governing body’s head injury assessment (HIA) process is “being exposed” as it made reference to Ireland prop Jeremy Loughman and that “the only option must be to err on the side of caution.” “.
Despite reeling after a collision during his country’s warm-up match against the Maori All Blacks last week, the Munster player Loughman was initially allowed to play again before being pulled at half-time.
“You saw one during the Maori game, obviously something totally different, and that too has been criticized,” Sexton continued.
“So, it is very difficult to win in this scenario. But everyone tries to do the best they can for the players.
“We have an excellent medical staff and facility here. I think they expected to see me again, but look, we passed all the tests and we are ready to start this week now, luckily.
Ireland must win at Forsyth Barr Stadium this weekend to stay alive in the series after fading from a promising start only to lose an error-plagued opener.
Sexton believes a first victory on New Zealand soil would put Ireland in top position heading into a potential decider in Wellington.
“If you can win the second Task, the momentum always turns to you and you feel like you have the ascendancy,” he said.
“But we haven’t really talked about the series. It’s really about getting back on the horse and making sure we do our best.
“We were happy with some of the stuff we did last week, but it’s pretty ruthless, right? We found out the hard way last Saturday.”