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Let the referees be the judges of suspected concussion at lower grades

By Frank Quinn
OVER the last number of years I have attended seminars and talks on concussions and its effect.
In the early seminars held by World Rugby it was all about professionals and the professional game and they were attended by representatives from the professional players’ associations.
Protocols were established and put in place with emphasis on the medical attendances at the professional games to oversee protocols and give professional medical opinions.
They publicly acknowledged it was for the pro game, but the obvious question was ‘what about the amateur, community and schools rugby games?’ What were the possibilities of having trained medical individuals at the multitude of games to give expert medical opinion on a possible concussion? The answer is pretty obvious: there is no chance.
The Dominic Ryan retirement case surfaced recently in the Irish Times to highlight concussion again in the newspapers. It showed that, in some cases, the players’ reaction to concussion is to ignore it. Simple enough, the player wants to play, it’s his job, his ambition. But in Dominic Ryan’s case
it caught up with him and he admitted that it was necessary to call a halt to his rugby career.
That must be a huge decision for a professional player who is then faced with some big decisions about his future. In the meantime the current protocols remain in place and maybe other professionals will read his story and it will resonate with them.
At the time of the seminars I asked about transferring the protocols to the Referees/Assistant referees (where no accredited medic is available) to monitor pretty obvious concussions. Every match has a referee. If the player staggers or is seen to be in difficulty then the official should have the right to remove the player from the pitch on a non return basis (he/she can be replaced) and insert the incident in the referee report. That may provide an extra responsibility for the referee but it would be well within their remit and their responsibilities.
The French Rugby Union has moved a step further on concussion and introduced an experimental Blue Card into the referee’s pack of cards. It is very simple to operate, as above, and they have it in place for this season. The player may be replaced from the bench and even by a player who has already been replaced – tactical or temporary injury. The referee’s decision is final on removing a player and you can only imagine the gesticulations and protests- French style from the players and coaches. Well done the French.
Look, it is not easy. Jack Conan explained at a recent Leinster press conference that he took a shot in the shoulder and stayed down because it was sore, did not get up but he was not concussed. He wanted, righty/legitimately, to stay on the pitch. But again he is a pro and there is a trained medic at all professional games who can consult with player and referee.
It is the next layer down in competitions of the club player we need to look at. The amateur.
The Referees Association need to consider carefully if they can legitimately put the rule into practise and then carry out the resultant administration and they are the best placed in Irish rugby to do it.

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