'World Rugby has lost total control of concussion' - Dr Barry O'Driscoll fumes over Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton incidents
Munster are the latest club to face an investigation over their handling of a suspected head injury after Conor Murray was allowed to play on despite appearing to lose consciousness briefly in the Irish province’s Champions Cup win in Glasgow, while Northampton wing George North has attacked the media for their coverage of his recent concussion.
European Professional Club Rugby has asked Munster to provide an account of the club’s actions over the incident and the likely outcome is an Untoward Incident Review, which would be conducted by an independent panel. It will be the first time the World Rugby protocol has been used since its adoption by the EPCR – the governing body of the European Champions and Challenge Cups – following a meeting of its medical advisory board in Milan in December.
The injury to Murray occurred in the 65th minute when he tried to tackle Glasgow lock Tim Swinson. Footage appears to show Murray motionless on the turf for a brief period before looking in distress and rubbing his head as he is attended to by the Munster medical team.
Referee Luke Pearce appeared to suggest that Murray needed a Head Impact Assessment, which kept the Ireland and Lions No 9 off the pitch for five minutes. He subsequently returned to play in the final minutes of Munster’s win but World Rugby guidelines state a player should be removed from the field of play if there is even a suspicion they have lost consciousness.
EPCR is sufficiently concerned about the impartiality of club medical staff that they are looking at requiring independent match-day doctors from the quarter-finals onwards.
Speaking on RTE Radio One yesterday, former World Rugby medical chief Dr Barry O'Driscoll, uncle of Ireland legend Brian, hit out at the fact Murray was allowed to return to the field and that Leinster's Johnny Sexton did the same in Friday night's win over Montpellier.
Asked about World Rugby's new tackle laws, where players can face sanctions for reckless or accidental contact to the head, he said: "What it has highlighted now, and it has had dramatic effect over the last two weeks, with Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton (temporarily replaced after a high tackle on Friday)... is that it has indicated they've lost total control of concussion, threatened concussion and what to do about it.
"World Rugby are blaming everybody: clubs and doctors. World Rugby have got this wrong so doctors are not sure what to do.
"Conor Murray should have been off, Johnny Sexton should have been off.
"Concussion was suspected in both, both have a history of suspected [concussion], both had brain injuries and both were put back on because they passed the protocols."
The issue of concussed players being cleared to play has been a prominent issue in the game this season, with Northampton and Wales wing North the highest-profile instance of a player being cleared to play on after apparently being knocked unconscious.
World Rugby decided not to punish Northampton but did admonish them for the manner in which they handled North’s most recent incident, when he appeared to lose consciousness after falling awkwardly following an aerial challenge in Saints’ Aviva Premiership game against Leicester.
North did not play for almost a month following that incident but he has hit out at the coverage of the incident, appearing to accuse the media of “making up” the story.
“You boys have to get paid somehow so you can make stories up. I’m all right,” North told BBC Radio Northampton after Saturday’s 28-21 Champions Cup victory over Castres. Teimana Harrison scored two tries and there was one apiece for Tom Wood and Stephen Myler, who also slotted all four conversions as Northampton claimed their fourth straight win in all competitions.