ONE in four schools players who suffered from concussion returned to play without proper medical advice, according to a new study into the impact of head injuries on young players.
The survey, which is to be presented to the Irish Society of Chartered Physiotherapists, revealed that more than a third of players who took part in the Leinster and Munster Senior and Junior Cups in 2010 incurred a suspected concussion while playing.
A separate report revealed that only 11pc of senior club players who participated in the Leinster Provincial Towns Cup in 2011 had received any advice on concussion from the IRFU.
Sinead Delahunty, a chartered physiotherapist and the author of the schools report – who was also involved in the clubs study – believes that the union need to invest in education to improve knowledge of head injuries.
"It boils down to education and protocols," she said. "There are schools who have taken the risks on board, but it is not across the board. It needs to become common practice."
The results of the questionnaire, which was filled out by 304 students from eight schools in Munster and Leinster, will put pressure on the union to increase their awareness of head injuries with clubs and schools.
The issue has received greater profile in recent seasons after Leinster hookers Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty were forced to retire after successive concussions.
The IRB introduced new protocols this season which were on view during Ireland's defeat to South Africa last Saturday as Cian Healy and Donnacha Ryan were taken off to be assessed for concussion after taking blows to the head. Both players returned to the field.
Those new rules are still being trialled and do not feature in the Pro12 or Heineken Cup. They are not intended to be extended to the club or schools game, where an independent doctor's presence can't be guaranteed.
Of the 304 players surveyed aged between 12 and 18, 19.4pc had been diagnosed with concussion and 33.64pc suspected they had suffered the head injury. Of those, 25.4pc returned to play without proper consultation, with the majority saying they received pressure from within their team to rush back without proper return-to-play guidelines.
Only 29.6pc of players said that they would report a concussion in future if they suffered a head injury.
In the senior study, in which 114 male adult players were surveyed, close to a third said they had been diagnosed with concussion.
The IRFU welcomed the information in the study.
The union said it has appointed a 'First Aid and Injury Prevention Officer' who will provide rugby-specific first aid courses to coaches, referees, players and parents in clubs and schools with a focus on concussion identification and said they agreed that "education on this issue is a priority."
An IRFU spokesman said that they have circulated the IRB guidelines on 'return to play' to the clubs and schools and have published information on their website.