Lewis Moody column: George North incident proves medics must have access to video replays

Rugby missed its moment to show it is on board with head injury protocols

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The Independent Online

Last Friday night I saw what happened to George North instantly, and I know I wasn’t the only one. It was a real shame, not just what happened when he suffered his second concussion in a clash of heads with team-mate Richard Hibbard, but because it was a great moment missed for the game to show that it has fully got on board with the new protocols about head injuries.

There should have been a decision taken to remove him from the field of play. I know the medics didn’t see that second incident, the coming-together which appeared to leave him temporarily unconscious, but they had no access to video replay either.

North should not have stayed on the field, and it should not have been his call to make. As a player you are never going to remove yourself from the field. You feel like you are letting your team-mates down. You would play on with a broken leg. That’s why the decision has to be taken out of your hands.

From now on, at all games, medical staff must have access to video replays. In previous years it’s been a case of just “shake it off and get on with it”. Now with what we know about head injury, brain trauma, it needs to be taken more seriously.

It is dangerous. People have died on the rugby field from second impact syndrome, including a 14-year-old boy two years ago.

We had an incident at Bradford-on-Avon, my local Sunday league club that I coach, where we had a guy take a blow to the head. It was only during a break of play, when he started asking questions like “Where am I?”, “What’s going on?”, that we knew something wasn’t right and we took him off.

I’m certainly not comparing Bradford-on-Avon on a Sunday to the Six Nations at the Millennium Stadium, but nobody wants the catalyst for real change in the professional game to be someone dying on the pitch.

The culture is changing, for sure. The statistics out this week seem to show that concussion is on the rise in the professional game, but it also suggests more players are reporting their concerns to the team doctor.

I know people were critical of some of the ex-pro pundits who appeared to make light of the incident but that’s just black humour. They know the risks better than anyone. I doubt they consider it a laughing matter.

Rugby is a contact game played by big, tough, abrasive characters, and with more physicality than ever before. I don’t want the game to go backwards or see the players wrapped up in cotton wool.

Even if you put a scrum hat on, it can encourage players to take more risks. With a helmet, you feel invincible. Look at American footballers – they set themselves up to tackle with their head. What we must do is teach proper technique. Concussion is only just being taken seriously. We must understand it better.

Hats off to Joseph but let’s not forget mighty Robshaw

That incident aside, it was a thrilling game. And for England, where there has been so much doubt, there must now be certainty.

Injury and inconsistency have forced head coach Stuart Lancaster to try an exhausting number of permutations in the England midfield. Jonathan Joseph has answered that conundrum in one game. He came in as fourth or fifth choice. Now he’s first choice.

Luther Burrell and Anthony Watson had phenomenal games too. They all delivered. With Manu Tuilagi still out, Burrell is the right partner for Joseph but when Manu is back, oh, it’s so exciting to think of those two together, and with Watson out wide, so fleet of foot with the ball in his hands.

Joseph had one chance to score, ball in hand straight under the posts, and he took it. What a weight that must be off Lancaster’s shoulders, to have someone who’s taken the chance to grab that shirt and make it his own.

One man who perhaps didn’t get mentioned enough was the England captain. Chris Robshaw made 26 tackles out of 26. That’s an incredible performance. A back row might hope to make 15 to 20 in a match. It was the second highest number in one game since the inception of the Six Nations. Only Thierry Dusautoir beats him.

Robshaw isn’t the type of player who has moments that really stand out. He’s like an all-round cricketer who does everything to the best of his ability.

There is competition for places in the England back row and he will have been really reassured by Lancaster publicly affirming that Robshaw will be his captain come the World Cup. To know the coach has that belief in him will give him the freedom to develop his own individual performance, rather than worry about  the captaincy.

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