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Northampton verdict sparks criticism

Rugby's authorities have been heavily criticised for failing to issue any sanction over Northampton's handling of the latest episode of concussion to have marred George North's career.

Saints' Wales winger was returned to play despite appearing to have been knocked unconscious during a league match on December 3, but a panel set up to investigate the incident opted against recommending that the club or their staff face disciplinary action.

The joint Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby review concluded that while there was "sufficient evidence" to end North's involvement in the match, the club did not "intentionally ignore the player's best interests".

The Rugby Players Association reacted to the findings of the review by describing the ''breakdown in procedure'' that enabled North's return to play as a ''significant failing'', adding that it would have preferred disciplinary action to have been taken.

''While we feel that sanctions would have sent a clear message about the gravity of concussion mismanagement, we welcome the recommendations outlined in the report,'' an RPA statement read.

Brain injury charity Headway has expressed its alarm at the outcome of the review.

"We are concerned with these findings," chief executive Peter McCabe said.

"Despite the CMRG (Concussion Management Review Group) reporting that the club followed concussion protocols and that the medical team had enough evidence available to them to make a decision, North, a player with a history of concussion, was allowed to re-enter play following the assessment.

"Serious questions have to be asked regarding the protocols: are they fit for purpose and are they being properly enforced? "

Ian Christian, an expert sports injury lawyer at Irwin Mitchell who worked with the Rugby Players Association in developing their concussion protocols, is also dismayed by the findings of the review.

"It's hugely disappointing to see that Northampton have not been held to account for the handling of George North's injury as it was an chance to make a statement and remind clubs, players and fans how serious an issue it is," Christian said.

"The findings and lack of punishment feel like a backwards step with the experts stating that Northampton could and should have done more to prevent North returning to the playing field.

"This was an opportunity for the panel to make a statement about concussion and the importance of a safety-first approach and it has been wasted."

Peter Robinson, whose 14-year-old son Ben died on a rugby field in 2011 after being allowed to play on following a series of concussions, was " absolutely flabbergasted" at the verdict.

"It just stinks of everything that went on with Ben," he said.

" Nobody was held responsible and it was just, 'Oh well, we'll learn from it'. But we haven't learnt from it.

"The talk about player welfare being the most important thing is just words. What does that mean, when you're allowing a brain-damaged player to carry on playing but no one is held responsible?

"This is not complicated. Take concussed players off the field."

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