Tuesday 15 October 2019

David Kelly: 'Maxim needed for O'Mahony and Aki is clear and simple: If in doubt, then sit them out'

Bundee Aki trains with team physio Keith Fox at the Yumeria Sports Grounds in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Bundee Aki trains with team physio Keith Fox at the Yumeria Sports Grounds in Iwata, Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
David Kelly

David Kelly

Do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is that Peter O'Mahony and Bundee Aki yesterday moved a step closer to being cleared to face Japan this weekend.

What's the bad news?

The bad news is that Peter O'Mahony and Bundee Aki yesterday moved a step closer to being cleared to face Japan this weekend.

It seems likely, however, that Ireland will err where they should, unswervingly tipping towards the side of caution, with only six days separating the Japanese clash with the Scottish victory which saw both players removed after receiving significant blows to the head.

Whatever about trusting against a leap of faith when assessing what part of Jonathan Sexton's body might be injured in deciding whether to pitch him in again, even with Joey Carbery available, it would serve little purpose to expose Aki and O'Mahony to incalculable risk so soon after their injuries.

As coach Richie Murphy stated yesterday: "The team we pick at the weekend will be the team we believe is the right team to play a Test match after six days."

And including Aki and O'Mahony would not form any commitment to a belief that this would be the right team.


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Ireland would have entered this tournament with a potential menu of minutes that they would preferably have allocated to their squad by the time they reached a quarter-final against South Africa or New Zealand.

When Tadhg Furlong was struggling against Scotland, he signalled with five fingers to the departing medic and nodded affirmatively. Within five minutes, his time was up.

But plans can go awry. Joe Schmidt would not have planned on carrying five injured players into week one. He will also not have been best pleased that Tadhg Beirne's ten-minute absence from the action disrupted his plans to bring on Niall Scannell.

Rory Best was not supposed to play 80 minutes. Events disrupt strategy. And certain events take precedence over planning.

There is a convenient comfort in believing that just because O'Mahony and Aki will have been passed fit to play on the eve of this weekend's match that they should simply be selected.

Given their lack of game-time, their "minutes" and "GPS" stats will still remain neatly coincidental to the grand scheme as laid down by the Irish brains trust. But this is about more than numbers.

Regardless of the incompatibility of rugby's concussion protocols - no more or less worthy than any other sport's, for not even qualified medics know enough about the issue to display any sense of certainty - it seems frankly ludicrous that there should be any conjecture about either playing being readied for another game this weekend.

Even though the players may have passed the second and third stage of the Head Injury Assessment process, allowing them to pass Return to Play protocols which would free them up for a pre-match contact session, what is the point in taking such a risk?

Ireland may have planned to front-load their heavy-hitters for the toughest opening games of their pool but circumstances beyond their control will now prompt a re-think. Joe Schimdt has honed his 31-man squad depth to allow for such an eventuality.

Aside from the prudence of removing two players around whom there must remain a degree of uncertainty, regardless of 'protocol', it is not as if there are no other options.

If Ireland cannot mould a 23-man squad who are sufficiently talented enough to defeat Japan, then they have no business contemplating challenging for a semi-final place. Chris Farrell's fine cameo, in defence and attack, against the Scots will guarantee him a start even if Robbie Henshaw is again marked absent.

While the Japanese will carry nowhere near the physical threat of the Pacific Island nations, yesterday's alarming first-half transgressions from Samoa are a reminder of the catastrophes that can occur.

Remember, Ireland's last pool game is against Samoa.

Blackrock alumnus Vasily Artemyev deserves credit for not calling out the lax French officials and their TMO after he was subjected to two dangerous head-high charges which warranted red cards, but were only deemed worthy of yellow.

All this on the back of World Rugby criticising refereeing standards on the opening weekend.

Even though Aki and O'Mahony were accidental victims of head injuries, Ireland must do as much as they can to prevent unnecessary exposure to further peril; rushing them out again with indecent haste would fall under such a heading.

Just because there were no obvious signs of concussion uncovered since their removal from the action last weekend, does not mean less caution should be deployed.

The prevailing maxim governing a subject that, sadly, not even the greatest medical minds have yet managed to fully comprehend, should be acknowledged.

If in doubt, sit them out.

Irish Independent

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