Saturday 24 August 2019

Head injuries are very serious so no chances are ever taken


Tiernan O’Halloran breaks through to score a try for Connacht against Edinburgh – ‘I got a few slaps on the back for the try,’ he says
Tiernan O’Halloran breaks through to score a try for Connacht against Edinburgh – ‘I got a few slaps on the back for the try,’ he says

Tiernan O’Halloran

As you might imagine, we felt pretty satisfied with last weekend's win. Five wins from six and second place in the table is great, but winning tight, physical battles like that is very pleasing.

I think we expected a bruising encounter going into that game and, as a result, we put a big focus on getting our tackling right. We knew if Edinburgh got good go-forward ball they would be dangerous because they are a quality side.

Looking at the stats ahead of the game, Edinburgh had conceded the least amount of tries in the league, so we knew it was going to be tough to break them down. We only got the one try against them, but it was always going to be a tight game.

I got a few slaps on the back for the try, but in truth it was a great team score. Everything from the lineout, to the set-up of the maul, to the lads breaking, the lines run by the backs, the no-look inside pass from Jack, the great line and broken tackle from Matt was all perfect. I finished the job, but everyone deserves the plaudits.

That move worked well for how Edinburgh defend, so a lot of the plaudits should go to the coaches for scripting that one. It's a great feeling to see it work perfectly. That's the plan every week, but it's not every week they come off.

It was very similar to the game last year - they nicked the win against us that day, but thanks to the defence we held on this time.


I ended up going off early with a bang on the jaw. Because I had a concussion the week before it was more precautionary than anything, but I passed all the protocols immediately, so that's not a worry.

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I must admit I was very disappointed to have to go off so early as captain the week before against Ospreys. It is such an honour to captain the province, I had gotten so many messages of support before the game which meant a lot, but it didn't work out the way I'd have liked on game day.

But the main thing was the lads did the business. I captained the first Connacht side to win at the Liberty Stadium - I'll take that!

For someone like Mul who is team captain, he is well used to the responsibility, but for me there was a few things to get used to very quickly. Small things you usually don't have to think about: the coin toss, or what way we should be playing.

During the week in training you have to lead the team talks, but that wasn't huge really, I usually try to say my piece, but as captain you're the main focus. The whole week was a slightly different experience for me, but it's important not to get too caught up in it. At the end of the day you have to treat it like another game, you still have to do your part on the field and that's the most important role of the week.

I was disappointed at the time to be leaving the field after 15 minutes with concussion but at the end of the day there are no chances taken with head injuries and that's a good thing. These days when you get a suspected head knock on the pitch you have to go off for a HIA (head injury assessment) which can last up to ten minutes.

It is actually a tough exam; you have to repeat words, recite numbers backwards, you have to walk a straight line a few times, do a balance test and a tandem stand and a few other exercises. It can be tough when the adrenaline is pumping in the middle of a game, so to pass it if you are anyway concussed seems impossible.

If you don't pass the initial HIA test you cannot go back on, but the process doesn't end there. Once the game is over you have to repeat the test again in order to see if you are improving or not. The next morning, bright and early, you have to do the same HIA test again, followed by the cognitive test on the laptop. On the first day of pre-season we have to do the cognitive test to set a baseline score, and when you repeat the test during your return-to-play protocols they can see how you have progressed. By the Monday I had improved and passed everything fine.

But still, as a precaution, you can only make a gradual return to action. I had no training on Monday, on Tuesday I was allowed do a 20-minute cycle on the bike, on Wednesday I was allowed do a 10-minute jog on the pitch, and on Thursday I was allowed do a light weights session. If at any stage you show any symptoms, you cannot go onto the next planned step.

I'm sure it's the same in most teams, but in Connacht, head injuries are taken very seriously. No chances are ever taken.

In the end I was fit to play against Edinburgh and it was a great one to be involved in. But this evening against Treviso we're likely to face another tricky test. And despite not having a win to their name yet, they have been competitive in most games.

We've done our analysis on them - they are as physical as they always have been, but they are well able to go wide now too. They are backing their skills and we have to plan how to cope with that.

We may be second in the table, but we cannot think like that. We cannot underestimate teams; we must take every game exactly the same. They will have their international players back and settled in the squad, so we'll need to be at our best, nail the basics and take it from there.

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