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WRU medic highlights concussion

Published 14/04/2015

Wales and Northampton wing George North has suffered frequent concussions in the last year
Wales and Northampton wing George North has suffered frequent concussions in the last year

Welsh rugby's medical chief has described concussion as "the number one thing" for the sport to address.

Rugby union has witnessed a number of high-profile concussion cases recently, highlighted this season by Wales and Northampton wing George North.

North is currently on a rest period at the reigning Aviva Premiership champions after suffering his third concussion of the campaign during Saints' victory over Wasps 18 days ago.

The 23-year-old was also stood down following incidents in Wales colours against world champions New Zealand last November and then opening RBS 6 Nations opponents England in February.

Wales full-back Leigh Halfpenny, Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton and England internationals Mike Brown and Geoff Parling have also experienced concussive episodes this term, with the combined effect continuing to keep a piercing spotlight on concussion in rugby.

Welsh Rugby Union national medical manager Prav Mathema, though, does not believe players wearing mandatory headguards - as has been called for in some quarters - would help reduce head injuries.

"Concussion is incredibly serious, and the number one thing in our sport which needs our attention of all the governing bodies," said Mathema, who was speaking at the WRU National Centre of Excellence on Tuesday.

"If somebody is concussed, or we suspect they are concussed, there is no doubt they are off the pitch. That is unequivocal.

"People who go off the field for head injury assessment have to go off the field. If they do pass the tests, the doctor can still remove them from the field of play.

"It is important to note that not every head blow results in concussion.

"We don't think it would be useful for headguards to become mandatory. Headguards are there to deal with lacerations. There is no evidence to show headguards will reduce concussive episodes."

Mathema accepted there had been "a gap in our management plan" regarding North during the England game at the Millennium Stadium.

North twice took knocks to his head - suffering a momentary loss of consciousness following a second-half clash of heads with team-mate Richard Hibbard - but that second incident was not seen by Wales' medical staff.

The sport's governing body World Rugby launched an immediate investigation - it later accepted the WRU's explanation - and Mathema admitted that had the incident been witnessed, then North would have immediately been taken off.

North was then rested for Wales' next game against Scotland at Murrayfield, before returning when they beat France in Paris a fortnight later. He finished the Six Nations campaign by scoring three tries in a 61-20 rout of Italy.

"What we have found in the incident against England was a gap in our management plan, which we immediately dealt with," Mathema added.

"Following that, we implemented a medical spotter who was watching video footage, and we implemented that for three away (Six Nations) fixtures.

"At home matches, we have a triple-spotter process - one for the home team, one for the away team and an independent who looks at both teams who will communicate to the match-day doctor.

"This is so we can look at every incident on the pitch and support our on-field medical teams.

"Players that get multiple concussions within a year all have to get reviewed with the appropriate health care professionals.

"There has to be an individual case-by-case basis, and that is the most appropriate way to manage players. As a medical team, what we do with all our management is that we assess risk."

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