RFU outline plans to help combat concussion


English rugby's top doctor believes it is unlikely the sport will in the future face a large American football-style lawsuit over concussion.

Next season the Aviva Premiership will trial the use of a 'concussion bin' that will enable players to leave the pitch to undergo cognitive tests if the team doctor or referee suspects they may be required.

Dr Simon Kemp, the Rugby Football Union's head of sports medicine, views the initiative as the "final piece in the jigsaw" in addressing the issue.

Concussion is highly topical in the United States where 2,000 former gridiron players are suing the National Football League over the way they have handled the injury.

The concern is that the number of retired rugby players showing the long-term effects of head trauma as a result of the increased physical demands that has accompanied professionalism will increase.

But Kemp is wary of drawing parallels between rugby and the NFL.

"It's speculative to say that we'll see more NFL-style outcomes to head injuries in years to come," Kemp said.

"There are differences between rugby and helmeted sports such as American football and ice hockey.

"We don't think that head knocks in rugby involve the same impact as American football or ice hockey.

"In those sports contact between helmeted players involve different forces to the forces that we see in rugby, which also requires players to tackle from the shoulder down.

"We don't want to be complacent about the level of risk in rugby, but we don't think taking research into American football or ice hockey and applying it to rugby is valid.

"But we're watching the landscape in rugby very carefully and trying to make sure we put player welfare first.

"If you manage concussions well at the start - bringing players off as soon as possible - it will go a long way to managing the long term consequences."

Dementia, cognitive dysfunction and depression are among the long-term effects of concussion, the fourth most common injury in rugby, but arguably second only to catastrophic neck trauma in terms of the impact had on post-career quality of life.

Kemp points out that the lawsuit against the NFL is for their failure to warn players about concussion risks and impose proper safety regulations.

In contrast, he believes English rugby is taking the correct steps to reduce the dangers involved.

"In the last two years of the Premiership, we've only taken 40% of players who have subsequently been out with concussion off the field at the time of their concussion," he said.

"The issue is that while your brain is recovering, you don't want it to be hit again, so you really want those concussed players off the pitch.

"The expectation is to do a lot better than we are doing now.

"The problem with concussion is that unlike a broken arm or broken leg, you can't see it on the outside. And rugby players are warriors, always keen to return to play.

"Since 2002-03, we believe we've been leading the way in concussion management."

The launch of the new Premiership season at Twickenham today also saw the announcement of extended powers for television match officials.

The league, which begins on Saturday week, volunteered to trial a greater use of video technology, which extends the TMO's input to more than just the grounding of the ball.

In matches broadcast live on television this season, the referee can ask the TMO to rule on any incident in the lead-up to a try being scored, dating back to the last stoppage in play.

The TMO will also have the power to alert the referee on matters of foul play he may have missed.

The trials have been developed by the International Rugby Board.

"This allows us to maintain the integrity of our competition by ensuring that the match officials are given the utmost support in getting crucial decisions right," said Phil Winstanley, rugby director at Premiership Rugby.