Safety advocates have warned that rugby head injury checks are “being exposed” after Johnny Sexton was selected for Ireland’s second Test against New Zealand.
The talismanic fly-half Sexton failed an on-field evaluation in last weekend’s first Test loss 42-19 to the All Blacks, left the field and did not return.
However, Ireland confirmed earlier this week that Sexton passed the final stages of the head injury assessment (HIA) process, leaving the 36-year-old available for Saturday’s second test in Dunedin.
Sexton was duly named in Ireland’s starting line-up on Thursday, in a move that raised concerns with security campaign group Progressive Rugby.
“Elite players who fail an HIA1 in the game, by definition, show cognitive dysfunction that requires removal,” said a Progressive Rugby spokesperson.
“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 caution needs to be further amplified in players with a history of brain injury, as the evidence is that they are at higher risk for further concussions and other injuries.
“Sadly, the HIA is being exposed. Last week the process again failed to diagnose a clear and obvious brain injury (Jeremy Loughman), while three days later we are told it identified a phantom injury (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 the welfare of the players 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.”
Sexton turns 37 next week and has battled headbutts and the perception surrounding them his entire career.
The Leinster playmaker slipped and collided with the legs of New Zealand’s Sam Cane in the first test, causing him to be eliminated from the Eden Park clash.
Ireland boss Andy Farrell confirmed that Sexton had made it through the final stages of the HIA process, with assistant coach Mike Catt declaring the experienced outside midfielder “ready to play” on Tuesday.
Governing body World Rugby has been contacted for comment, while Ireland and Sexton have been confident that all protocols were fully followed.
Ireland boss Farrell only made one change for the All Blacks’ second test, with Mack Hansen replacing Keith Earls on the wing.
Farrell insisted his players deserved a chance at redemption despite last weekend’s series-opening heavy loss in Auckland.
“There are all kinds of different ramifications that go into the selection, sometimes players probably haven’t performed to the standards that they judge themselves by,” Farrell said.
“Not giving people a chance to correct that is sometimes missing an opportunity, so there’s a little bit of that.
“Some people are unlucky enough not to start because they had a good impact off the bench and so on, they get that too.
“Obviously this has been an easier week, and a lot of the guys have a chance to come back.”
New Zealand scored six tries to Ireland’s three at Eden Park last weekend, with Farrell keenly aware that the tourists need to sharpen the defence.
However, the former double-coded international also insisted that Ireland “know the answers” to the All Blacks’ questions.
“The guys are in a good place to be honest, obviously now, Thursday before a test game, you would expect them to be,” Farrell said.
“But even early in the week, there’s a little bit of doubt when you don’t know the answers, but they know the answers, they know the parts they need to get it right.
“They know the access they gave the All Blacks and they know they can’t do that.
“They know firsthand that if you do that you will be behind your own posts.
“There have been some things to fix, and now there is a little bit of enthusiasm to build up.”