Sport Rugby

Monday 20 November 2017

Comment - The latest George North incident was scary, but the fact that we saw more than the medics is terrifying

George North lying motionless after the incident
George North lying motionless after the incident

James Corrigan

It is possible to be outraged by George North’s latest poleaxing and the reaction to it, without believing that Northampton’s medical staff acted negligently or that the player, himself, was telling a mistruth when insisting he had not been knocked unconscious.

Of course, social media will insist otherwise, as the videotape of North lying spread-eagled on the floor after being tackled in in the air by Leicester's Adam Thompstone is played over and over. But look further into Northampton’s explanation and understand that it is not necessarily the club or its doctors who should shoulder all the blame.

Northampton’s claim that its medics did not have the same evidence on which to base their initial assessment is truly terrifying.

"As at every Premiership match, the Saints' medical team has access to video footage to be used to assist the pitchside assessment of injuries," the club statement said. "It is important to note this video footage is not always the full range of replay angles available to the TV viewing audience at home.’

Think about that. Consider that what we, the casual observers, witnessed more than the doctors themselves. This is 2016. Surely it is within the ever-expanding compass of technology to stream whatever we are watching to their consoles? Surely, the powers-that-be should insist on this, not just with a direction but with an actually rule.

In fact, there should be a professional in a truck or even positioned remotely, with all the replays and all the angles available and the power to voice his or her concerns and ensure that every safeguard is ensured.

And that would clearly have been to remove North from the field of play for the rest of the afternoon; even if he did pass the HIA and even if the wing did maintain that he was laying there motionless because of fears that it could be a neck injury. Never mind the Head Injury Assessment protocols, because mere suspicion should be more than enough in this regard.

That is the challenge for World Rugby and, yes, all of the unions as the concussion problem becomes increasingly urgent. It must be hoped that the issue does not become a cause celebre, because there are many other concerns with the modern game.

The predominant factor which links each and every worry is the extreme physicality which exists as a byproduct of professionalism and the quest for increasingly bigger combatants.

Never mind this leading to calamitous blows to the head, there is a school of thought out there that a “car-crash” injury will soon kill a player. Look at Jared Payne's kidney damage just a fortnight ago. How long before a player internally bleeds to death? Rugby union has to look much wider than simply the headline cases, or the media storms.

Not to say that the ongoing concern regarding North is not very real. Northampton will not allow him to play again until he undergoes an independent medical assessment. This is the second time in as many years this extremely fit 24-year-old has been stood down.

In 2015, he suffered three KOs in four months. Eventually he resumed, but for whatever reason, he has not reached the peaks he previously hit. Now his future is in the hands of the neurologists and when one mentions “future” in this regard it should be noted that his career is not the most important consideration. Not nearly.

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