Thursday 22 March 2018

Johnny Sexton concussion fears cause headaches for both Leinster and the IRFU

Leo Cullen: everything was done right
Leo Cullen: everything was done right
David Kelly

David Kelly

Leinster head coach Leo Cullen has stressed that they have the best welfare of their players at heart after both he and the IRFU insisted that Jonathan Sexton passed all his immediate HIA assessments in the aftermath of receiving a bang to the head during last Saturday's defeat to Wasps.

Confusion arose immediately after the game when both Cullen and Leinster Rugby reported that Sexton had failed the Head Injury Assessments (HIA) which are undertaken when players receive potentially concussive blows - as it appeared the out-half had done when clashing with Brendan Macken.

However, it has emerged that Leinster staff, Dr Jim McShane and physio Garreth Farrell, erred on the side of caution and advised the removal of the player due to the superficial nature of the blow - a move which seemed to have led others on the day, including Cullen himself, to assume that the 30-year-old had actually failed the sport's controversial sideline concussion test.

The IRFU, in whose care the player was placed as the Irish team under Joe Schmidt congregated in their team base yesterday to begin preparations for Sunday week's Six Nations opener against Wales at the Aviva Stadium, also confirmed that, in fact, all the assessments had been passed.

"Johnny Sexton has passed HIA 1, HIA 2 and will complete HIA 3 tomorrow," they said in a statement after a weekend filled with wild conjecture given the player's worrying history of concussion.

Many people will now re-open the debate about what many medical experts believe are badly flawed concussion guidelines and return to play protocols, as laid down by World Rugby and followed by the IRFU.

In the meantime, Leinster insist that they took every precaution in dealing with the player, particularly given his troubled history.

"We've lost a player this year to retirement, Kevin McLaughlin, so we're ultra cautious," asserted Cullen.

"And it's important that everyone is really aware of that fact. The player welfare is really important to us.

"If there's any little bit of doubt, Johnny could have gone back on because he passed his questionnaire - he went through that absolutely fine.

"I know there was a bit of hysteria around this but he's being managed as best as possible by all concerned.

"The medics weren't happy because he clashed heads. He's got a bit of slight inflammation on the side of his head, so that's almost enough.

"We understand the concern. Sean O'Brien had slightly different symptoms to other players, and again got treated for vestibular issues, and he's still continuing on with that rehab.

"The nature of the game is in it, too. We couldn't qualify for the pool, so we're being ultra cautious as well.

"Kevin was very different to this. He was having that episode where, with the slightest bang, he was having a sensation. But, of course, it's a very big concern."

When dealing with concussion, the optics are everything, especially when images are being beamed across every living room in the country and opinion is being broadcast across every possible medium.

When the player involved is Sexton, the accuracy of the message is paramount and any vacuum is likely to lead to the extensive ruminations which have swirled wildly since he made contact with Macken's head in the early moments of Saturday's clash.

That it took almost 48 hours for it to be confirmed that, in actual fact, the player was not concussed, when it had appeared that he had, even to his provincial head coach and others in his organisation, muddied waters that should have been much clearer.

Meanwhile, Connacht's Finlay Bealham has been brought into the Ireland squad following the hamstring injury sustained by Marty Moore which has ruled him out of the tournament. Robbie Henshaw has also been passed fit.

Irish Independent

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