December 14, 2017


Friday, July 28, 2017

Keeping our heads on player protection

By Frankie Deges / Rugby column

You see it many times in local rugby. Players dazed after a knock on the head, water being the best form of instant cure so that they can continue playing. It has happened over the years. It continues to happen.

There is even a catch-phrase for knocks to the head: “The TV set has been turned-off!”

In years gone by, rugby was a brutal sport in which the wellbeing of players was not anywhere on the agenda. I will even say it was more violent, in many different ways. A punch was acceptable, stomping was part of the game and again, the catch-phrase “whatever is on the ground is grass” was authorisation to walk over what was interfering with the team. With a lonely referee needing to control the whole affair, far too many incidents would go unseen. Boot-marks, a blackeye, stitches, they were seen as battle scars.

Today’s game is, faster, stronger, more physical and requires fitter players. Some of the legal hits of today would have ignited massive brawls in the past. What has really changed, and in a form of constant change, is the protection of players. Welfare has become the highest topic on the agenda for the game’s governing body, World Rugby.

Players need to understand that while the game grows faster and stronger, they will continue to have one body and they need to protect it. And the head is a crucial part of this problem. Sometimes, they chose not to adhere to this.

Players want to play. That is what they train and they live for. I am not talking about professional players as theirs is a different scenario; club players are under huge pressure to perform and for this they work almost all year. However, their love for the game sometimes leads them to make wrong decisions.

Asking them to leave the field after a knock is not easy and coaches and doctors need to understand that there is a long-term effect to injuries or knocks that don’t seem to have an instant effect. More importantly, the player needs to know this.

Head injuries are part and parcel of the game, of course. Again, we need to separate professional and amateur rugby; although they share the same laws, they are on different planes. This season I have already seen a number of incidents in amateur rugby which would have normally led to a professional player being taken off the field.

Whilst it is impossible to conduct the HIA (Head Injury Assessment) protocol used by professionals in the amateur game, most teams have doctors and one of the very positive aspects of the game in our country is that no rugby game can start without the presence of a qualified doctor who has signed the match card. They should take a bigger role in certain decisions. There are sporting implications to any decision but I would rather lose a championship than risk future problems for players.

There are a few indications of when a player has been knocked on the head and concussions not always clear for the uninitiated to see and understand from the touch-line. Players with head injuries must be removed as the risk is extremely high. The player needs to understand this. The coach needs to protect his player despite the team’s needs and the doctor knows what is good for the player.

Those in clubs know of former players whose decision-making sometimes seems erratic. “Too many knocks to his head as a player,” is the common view, said with a smile.

The game of rugby is in constant evolution and an indication of this is cultural: an injured player is no longer a hero if he stays on the field. Quite the contrary. And head injuries have a long-lasting effect.


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