Sunday 4 December 2016

Neil Francis: No point in having space-age technology if we don't use it

Split-second decision over Giteau injury could prove very expensive for everyone involved

Published 11/09/2016 | 17:00

Matt Giteau lies in pain during the final moments of his international career. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
Matt Giteau lies in pain during the final moments of his international career. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images

In 1987, I walked down University Park Boulevard into the LA Coliseum to watch the LA Raiders play the Buffalo Bills. It was a routine victory for the Raiders whose interstellar backfield of Marcus Allen and Bo Jackson sparked the game into life every time they touched the football.

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Allen was the MVP from the Raiders' 1983 Super Bowl victory and Jackson played baseball for the Kansas City Royals and football at Major League level with the air of a man who could slot in at left corner-forward for Tipperary after a week of practice.

To have such sublime athletes on a team in practically the same position . . . well it just wasn't a good idea. Jackson was one of the great unfulfilled talents in world sport. He never won a title in professional sport and was known more for his Bo knows football Nike ads before he succumbed to injury. They were, in truth, great ads.

On the other side of the line was the great Jim Kelly who led Buffalo to four consecutive Super Bowls. Buffalo lost all four horribly and Kelly had dry mouth in them all, but we can still call him great because he got them to the decider practically on his own and against the odds. On the big day the opposition coaches didn't have to do much thinking, given they were playing a one-man team. Kelly now has greater challenges as he fights a rare form of cancer.

And so I got to watch some of the greatest NFL talent of all time in a truly iconic venue. But the thing that amazed me most, apart from the Raiderettes, happened to be a defensive lineman whose name I cannot recollect. Let's call him Pat for convenience.

At the line of scrimmage, one of the big boys didn't get up after the whistle called play dead. Medical staff came on the field, there was a quick examination and after a few minutes Pat left the field under his own steam and walked gingerly to the sideline. No more than five minutes later a message boomed out on the PA system - Pat has retired from the game with a broken leg. End of game, end of season for big Pat!

That was nearly 30 years ago. How could a player receive a diagnosis of a broken leg five minutes after leaving the field? Simple. Even back then, the Yanks had an X-ray machine either on the sideline or a 30-second walk from the field of play. This, I thought, was cutting edge. If your high-value player has a broken anything, it makes sense to know immediately. You don't, under any circumstances, want him going back into contact if he is not fit to do so. However, if the break is not too bad, then get him back in there! This is America!

Roll it on to 1995 and I am deep within the bowels of Ellis Park in Jo'burg. We were having a captain's run the day before playing the All Blacks in the first pool match in the World Cup in South Africa. I had hurt my ankle and was getting it strapped in the hospital inside the stadium. There were two operating theatres where you could have open heart surgery performed. There was an X-ray machine and a number of scanners - wow! The future had indeed arrived. Jonah Lomu was playing against us the following evening. How many of us would end up in there?

On August 20, the All Blacks laid waste to the Wallabies at ANZ Stadium in Sydney - the former Olympic stadium. The Wallabies don't normally do capitulation, but there was such a sense of hopelessness about their display that you could almost hear the white flag fluttering in the breeze of defeat. The All Blacks are a frightening proposition when they catch fire. Their fluid and continuous expression of the game of rugby left the Wallabies in a hopeless game of second-guessing. It could have been 60 - maybe 70.

This would be Matt Giteau's final game against the All Blacks. He played them 24 times without an awful lot of positive results and he has never scored a try in any of those matches.

The Matt Giteau law has been enacted in the ARU Constitution so that experienced players - like, well, Matt Giteau - can play for Australia even though he is playing his club rugby in Toulon.

Mourad Boudjellal was not happy with being without his playmaker for the first two months of the season because he was picked by Australia for the Rugby Championship. The Aussies had to pay Boudjellal €80,000 to have him in their squad. €8,000 per minute is just a little pricey for the 10 minutes he was playing. That will pale into insignificance with what is coming down the line.

In the eighth minute Giteau sustained heavy contact from Owen Franks who hit him sideways in the tackle zone. The slow-motion replays were not pretty as Giteau rolled his ankle. As someone who is not a medical doctor but has watched or played contact sport all of my life, the injury to my mind was at best ligament damage. Giteau has great mental toughness and is nuggety and resilient when it comes to dealing with physical punishment, yet it was almost comical to see him crawl out the side of the ruck on his hands and knees in agony. The comedy turned to farce when the Australian medical team came out to examine him.

As a medical professional you need to rely on what the injured player is telling you in the heat of the moment with 80,000 people watching you. It was obvious that Giteau was in pain but he was never intending to leave the fray. If you can lip-read, the general gist was that he would stay on the pitch and try to run it off. This really should have been challenged. This is the critical moment when you make a snap decision based on what the player is telling you. Australia's on-field medical team examined the leg, manipulated it, looked for reaction, rubbed the leg, strapped it up with a bandage and let Giteau carry on.

At that stage Giteau's ankle was broken - we are not sure whether his leg was broken as well but from the pitiful hobbling as he tried to run off the injury, it appeared to me that there was absolutely no way Giteau should have been allowed to continue. At that stage of the match both teams were sizing each other up with the sort of brutish examination you'd find in the octagon. Being 99pc fit just isn't enough. Giteau wasn't even close to being right.

As Giteau loitered out on the left wing, the ball came back to his side of the pitch. Adam Ashley-Cooper smashed Israel Dagg in the tackle as he attempted to offload one-handed to Kieran Read. Incredibly Giteau had jumped two feet into the air to try to intercept the pass but as he landed, Ashley-Cooper's tackle pushed Dagg into Giteau and the Aussie centre landed, bounced, rolled and caught the full of his weight in an awkward half crouch and the cameras were presented with another horrible slow-mo. Giteau crumpled in agony and that was the end of the game for him.

The Olympic Stadium has a space-age medical facility - why was Giteau not given an X-ray or MRI after the first injury? There is an X-ray machine in the Aviva - I have been told by doctors that it takes two minutes to ascertain if a bone is broken. Were any of the Australian management team watching the clip of the first injury? Were they satisfied that Giteau be allowed to continue? Did Giteau break his ankle in the first contact and his leg in the second contact or did he break both in the first contact?

Giteau is under contract to Toulon for about €1 million per annum but the French club will be without him for the season. Who pays his wages? Where do Toulon find a player of requisite quality to cover for Giteau while he is out? Giteau is 33 and there is no guarantee that he will play to the level we expect of him next season.

His international career is over and his club career may be over too. If that is the case would he take action over how his career came to an end? If I was his manager I'd say we have a cast-iron case - you broke your ankle, they strapped you up and sent you back on. I am sure Boudjellal will also want to be heavily compensated. Are valuable and highly-paid club players going to be treated in this way when they are released for international duty?

My sympathies are with the player and also with the medical team that took his on-field advices. In the medical world, split-second decisions are often based on the advice you are given at the time. The bottom line here is that he should have been scanned to be sure no matter what his protestations were.

Another blot on the landscape - this one is heading for the law courts. Bo knows law!

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