Concussion Is 'Number One Issue' In Rugby

Welsh Rugby's Medical Chief Speaks Out Over Head Injuries

16.04.2015

Concussion is the "number one issue" that the sport needs to address, Welsh rugby's medical chief has claimed.

Several high profile concussion cases over the past few months have increased awareness of the risks of head injuries for rugby players. Prav Mathema, Welsh Rugby Union's national medical manager, is urging governing bodies to take action in response.

"Concussion is incredibly serious, and the number one thing in our sport which needs our attention of all the governing bodies," he said. "If somebody is concussed, or we suspect they are concussed, there is no doubt they are off the pitch. That is unequivocal."

Responding to proposals for mandatory headguards, Mathema said: "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."

Welsh medical staff were recently criticised for their treatment of George North, currently on a rest period after being knocked unconscious three times in the current season, who was allowed to return to the pitch soon after having lost consciousness in a Six Nations game against England.

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

"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."

Expert Opinion
The spotlight on concussion is a welcome step forward and it is clear that rugby’s governing bodies are beginning to accept the importance of the issue. The fact the game is beginning to engage in conversations and debate on the topic is real progress and is a welcome change from the muted comments 12 months ago.

The real issue remains though that in the heat of the battle, the removal of players from the field of play who have suffered head injuries remains the thorny issue. Strong management and enforcement of the concussion protocol is needed to make player welfare paramount. Team doctors failing to spot head injuries, as seen when George North was knocked out playing for Wales in February, must be eradicated.
Ian Christian, Partner