Heads you lose...


I was interviewed by Bloomberg News just 18 months ago and shortly following George North's previous loss of consciousness, whilst trying to prevent England scoring in the opening game of that season's Six Nations.  

Bloomberg had asked me to contribute to a piece they were producing on the subject of whether Rugby was experiencing an "NFL moment",  as that and other US sports bodies faced lawsuits from former athletes looking for compensation for disabilities sustained on the field of play.

Given both the publicity and raft of regulation prompted by that series of events, I hadn't expected to find evidence that the much heralded changes to the assessment of player head injuries had broken down so soon. And let alone in an incident involving the self same player. 

It appears that on this occasion, the culprit was a breakdown in technology, in that the pitch side medical team hadn't been provided with the same range of camera angles afforded to any viewer watching at home on BT Sport. It appears bizarre to me that the medics would have been better off watching the game on a widescreen TV, in one of the corporate boxes. Or possibly on the sofa at home. 

It also seems to me that whilst the technology plainly exists to avoid such incidents there persists, at some level within the sport, a nagging doubt that all of this is strictly necessary. Indeed, Northampton’s head coach initially suggested that North hadn't even been knocked out and the club asserted that if he had lost consciousness, it wasn't obvious to them. That seems at odds with the fact that it was obvious to anyone watching at home. Even North was quoted, not long after his March 2015 incident as saying “At the end of the day, it is rugby, isn’t it?...It’s not table tennis, or tiddlywinks. It is a contact sport and you are going to get some bangs.”

Ultimately and for all the best intentions of World Rugby, common sense needs to trickle down through the national unions, the clubs and ultimately to the players themselves. Failing that, they can all be sure that the Lawyers will be on their game and I see no outcome  other than one involving a great deal of litigation. 

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George North never much liked to talk about concussion. In 2015 he was ordered to take a four-week lay-off because he had taken four bad blows to the head in five months. In the end it was nine weeks before North could say he felt OK and almost six months before he was able to play
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