The IRFU is tackling the subject of concussion head-on.
Yesterday at the Aviva Stadium it unveiled a new initiative under the banner of 'A Guide to Concussion in Rugby Union' to be used at all levels of the game in Ireland. The guide, which is aimed at players, coaches, officials and parents makes four key points. They are:
Concussion MUST be taken extremely seriously
Any player with a suspected concussion MUST be removed immediately from training/play and NOT return
They should be medically assessed
They MUST NOT be left alone and MUST NOT drive a vehicle.
Stressing that concussion is a serious injury – very occasionally, even fatal – the guide's key words are Stop, Inform, Rest, Return.
1. Stop: A player with a suspected concussion must be removed immediately and must not return to the field.
2. Inform: A player with suspected concussion should report it to a team medic, coach, team-mate, friend or family member and be properly assessed and managed.
3. Rest: A player with a concussion must undertake a mandatory rest period as per IRFU guidelines outlined in the Guide to Concussion in Rugby Union.
4. Return: A player with a concussion must follow the IRFU Graduated Return to Play protocols and should be medically cleared prior to returning to full contact.
The guide calls on players to be honest with themselves and medical staff in reporting symptoms and outlines the need for comprehensive medical assessment of such injuries. It also warns that returning to play before the concussion is completely resolved may have extremely serious long-term health consequences.
Speaking at yesterday's Dublin launch, Dr Rod McLaughlin, the IRFU's Head of Medical services, said: "Rugby, like all contact sports, can result in injury. Potentially serious injury such as concussion must be taken seriously from the outset.
"We are adopting a zero tolerance approach to concussion in an attempt to dispel the myth of a 'knock to the head' or a 'minor concussion'.
"If a player is suspected of being concussed they must be removed from training or the field of play, and not return until proper graduated return-to-play guidelines have been observed.
"This guide is targeted at everyone playing, officiating or connected with a person who is playing rugby and follows our recent concussion poster campaign.
"This guide and our traffic light poster campaign should be displayed in every rugby school and club in Ireland, to ensure more people recognise concussion and take action to reduce the risk of serious injury."
The IRFU is committed to blazing a trail on the subject, with Dr McLaughlin saying: "We are hopeful for the next Six Nations – and we may be going ahead for the next Six Nations even if some nations do not agree."
Asked what this would entail, he replied: "I am not exactly clear about the process, but it is highly likely that the Pitch-Side Concussion Assessment (PSCA) tool and all the other things will be in place for the next Six Nations."
However, he revealed that there may not be unanimous support.
"All I will say is there is one nation that isn't agreeing, that didn't agree last year; I don't think it's appropriate for me to name names or point the finger," he said.
He was hopeful, however, that the treatment strategy will be in place by February.
Leinster, Ireland and Lions full-back Rob Kearney, chairman of the Irish Rugby Union Players' Association, added his endorsement.
"A recent survey by IRUPA confirmed that concussion is a major concern for players," he said.
"This guide is a very positive step towards educating those involved in rugby at all levels. From a player perspective I would welcome pro-active initiatives like this and also the IRB Pitch-Side Concussion Assessment tool for the professional game.
"As professional players, we must also acknowledge our own responsibility to ensure we are honest and show trust in our medical staff and coaches."