Tuesday 20 November 2018

Rugby is still holding the concussion bomb with tongs in spite of warnings

Under current guidelines, the 10-minute assessment is intended only for “potential” concussion victims. In the case of players deemed to be already showing actual signs, symptoms or even a suspicion of the condition, immediate and permanent removal from the field is advised.
Under current guidelines, the 10-minute assessment is intended only for “potential” concussion victims. In the case of players deemed to be already showing actual signs, symptoms or even a suspicion of the condition, immediate and permanent removal from the field is advised.
Keith Rossiter, Wexford
The decision not to fulfil Thursday’s media obligations said everything of a man inclined to behave like a spiteful child when things don’t go his way.
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

On Tuesday of last week, Dr Barry O'Driscoll emailed some like-minded people an example of what he considers the lethal game that rugby union is playing with concussion.

He'd seen Leicester's Argentinian prop, Marcos Ayerza, temporarily sidelined having sustained a heavy hit during their Premiership game against Bath. Ayerza returned to play after less than six minutes spent under the scrutiny of what World Rugby policy calls 'Head Injury Assessment' protocol.

This is a 10-minute window that has replaced the controversial 'concussion bin' which offered just half that amount of time for clinical assessment of an injured player.

O'Driscoll has long been outspoken about rugby's relationship with concussion, resigning from the IRB's medical advisory board in 2012 through exasperation, not simply with what he considers critical shortcomings in official policy, but also inconsistency of enforcement.

Under current guidelines, the 10-minute assessment is intended only for "potential" concussion victims. In the case of players deemed to be already showing actual signs, symptoms or even a suspicion of the condition, immediate and permanent removal from the field is advised.

O'Driscoll's conviction is that no medics are qualified to do the job that rugby is asking them to do. That is to perform clinical trials on players' brains in such pressured time and circumstance.

In Ayerza's case, he does not question the skill or integrity of those who made the call at Welford Road on January 4. He is, instead, questioning a system that licenses the very making of that call.

His email last week delivered a joltingly stark assessment of the price O'Driscoll fears that rugby might eventually pay for its style of policing concussion.

RESIGNING

"When resigning I expressed my concern that performing clinical trials on rugby players' brains in such a cavalier fashion is to be abhorred" he wrote. "Predictably, the incidences of failure of this baseless experiment continue apace in elite rugby, providing worrying examples to our young talent, their parents and to the world.

"There will be a price to pay by rugby but more significantly and tragically by so many young men who we in rugby are potentially abusing."

One of the recipients of his email was Peter Robinson whose interview in yesterday's Irish Independent elicited widespread shock and applause from readers. Peter's 14-year-old son Ben died four years ago this week after sustaining what the coroner believed to have been three separate brain injuries in one schools rugby game.

Since his death, Peter has campaigned for stricter monitoring of concussion in rugby, particularly at schools and grassroots level. He fears that such levels have fallen prey to the same worship of size that now so defines the professional game.

Concussion can be particularly dangerous for young players whose brains are not yet fully formed. In Ben Robinson's case, death was caused by what is known as Second Impact Syndrome. The term is self-explanatory.

What Peter and his family did not know as they desperately sought an explanation for the tragedy was that a schools rugby player in Dublin, Lucas Neville, had sustained a similar injury just 14 months before Ben's death.

Lucas survived the life-threatening event through emergency surgery, but has been left with permanent brain damage. Last March, he was awarded €2.75million in damages.

Peter Robinson played rugby when he was young, but echoes the late Jack Kyle's view that the game he knew then was unrecognisable from what he sees today. As a kid, he was taught to run into space. Now, he sees young players used as virtual wrecking-balls.

Yet, it strikes him that this debate about rugby concussion is, if anything, an irritant now to those charged with administrating the game.

He cites the convulsions that ran through the cricket world last November when Australian Test batsman, Phillip Hughes, died two days after being struck by a ball in Sydney as an example of what death should ignite in any sport.

A reasonable response should be questioning, not defensive.

Rugby's view, clearly, is that the breath-taking ignorance of concussion that took the life of Peter's son four years ago has, essentially, been rinsed from the game now. Perhaps it has too.

But is it reasonable to make 10-minute calls on potential brain trauma in a sport awash with anecdotes of professionals purposefully "dumbing-down" for pre-season cognitive assessment so that, if necessary, they can out-fox concussion protocols?

And if so, what message is that sending to the broader game?

Men like Dr O'Driscoll and Peter Robinson are not in the business of demonizing rugby. They hardly represent some kind of hostile enemy.

Rugby's folly is to make them feel as if they do.

Rossiter ennobled by warrior spirit

He never won an All Star and didn't play in an All-Ireland final, yet Keith Rossiter's inter-county retirement registered with a jolt across the hurling landscape.

Every team needs its pillars and, for more than a decade, Rossiter has been a central support for Wexford. Their best man-marker, he was maybe never an entirely natural full-back, yet developed into one of the country's most formidable by simple dint of circumstance.

Rossiter's preferred shirt number was actually six but for a small eternity that was untouchable with Oulart. Liam Dunne was, Rossiter says, his idol coming through the ranks and it wasn't difficult to see why.

Because nobody mixed purity of touch with searing defiance better and, watching Rossiter, you could always readily recognise the great man's influence.

So it can't have been easy making the decision to call time on his county career given (a) it would be Dunne that he'd first be breaking the news to and (b) it meant leaving behind the best Wexford team since the Leinster title-winning side of 2004.

It was Rossiter's misfortune that, for much of his county career, Wexford found themselves on the game's periphery.

Yet he ennobled that struggle with the spirit of a warrior.

Mourinho's comedy circus lacks class and conscience

Is there not something perverse in hearing the smoking gun of Diego Costa's football personality being held up this week as the quality that Liverpool most glaringly lack?

The insinuation being that their cup loss to Chelsea could be attributed to some kind of chronic niceness running through the team now that they no longer have access to Luis Suarez.

Liverpool miss Suarez's goals undoubtedly, but the ungovernable volatility that cost them almost an entire season of suspensions during his three and a half years at Anfield? Hardly.

Yet how often this week did you read or hear some pundit hold up Costa's "nastiness" as the difference between Tuesday night's teams?

His early stamp on Emre Can was deemed "accidental" by that comedic giant, Jose Mourinho.

And Costa's appeal against suspension thus seemed informed by the view that, as his gaze was not on Can, he could not be accused of intent. Yet, anyone who thinks he had to be looking at Can's leg to know its location has never played football.

John Giles said this week that Mourinho has been "bullying" referees. This is palpably true, but then what is the discouragement when the FA interpretation of punishment historically has been to fine him the equivalent of pocket-money?

The Costa suspension touched a different nerve because it threatened to genuinely hurt Chelsea.

And Mourinho's response? Exactly what you might expect of the bully who finally gets confronted.

The decision not to fulfil Thursday's media obligations said everything of a man inclined to behave like a spiteful child when things don't go his way.

Mourinho is one of the most savvy, accomplished football managers on the planet. He is certainly, for now, the best in the Premier League.

But he has all the class of a magpie.

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