High-level discussions over the treatment of the Wales wing George North – or, many believe, the lack of it – will continue this week as World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, seeks assurances that the correct concussion protocols were followed during the Six Nations game with England at the Millennium Stadium. In addition, the Rugby Players’ Association is keeping a close watch on developments, having been alarmed by television footage of events in Cardiff.
The British and Irish Lions Test back suffered two heavy, purely accidental blows to the head, one in each half. After the first incident, when the England lock Dave Attwood attempted to kick the ball just as his opponent fell on it, North spent some eight minutes off the field, undergoing a range of checks designed to determine whether he was in a reasonable condition to continue. Having passed that examination, he later collided with countryman Richard Hibbard, and fell to the floor in a way that suggested he had been knocked out, albeit momentarily. On this occasion, he carried on regardless.
Wales officials said staff were unaware of the second incident, adding that North was checked after the game and declared symptom-free. The Red Dragon hierarchy have, however, acted on television evidence by deciding to subject the player to the full range of cognitive and physical tests ahead of this weekend’s game with Scotland at Murrayfield.
North, who plays his club rugby in the English Premiership with Northampton, is a member of the RPA, which intends to intensify its campaign for independent doctors to attend all major professional matches. The association will wait for things to unfold fully between World Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union before deciding on any intervention of its own.
Concussion is one of the most sensitive issues facing the sport and there will be much interest in the findings of the Rugby Football Union’s latest injury audit, which are due to be made public this week. Enhanced protocols, including more time for thorough safety checks during a match and improvements to the “graduated return to play” process after it, have been introduced following a series of worrying incidents in major games.
There was a good deal of criticism over the Wallabies’ treatment of their veteran flanker George Smith during the final Test of the 2013 series with the Lions in Sydney – a game in which North played and finished on the winning side – and more uproar last May when the French international centre Florian Fritz returned to the field in obvious distress during a championship play-off match between Toulouse and Racing Métro.
Meanwhile, the Wales tight-head prop Samson Lee was diagnosed with concussion following the England game and will have to prove his fitness ahead of the trip to Edinburgh. So will the outside-half Dan Biggar, badly bloodied after a clash of heads with his team-mate Gethin Jenkins during the first half of Friday’s match. He is being “managed accordingly”, according to a Wales spokesman.
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