International Rugby
IRB to introduce concussion guidelines
ESPNscrum Staff
February 15, 2011
England wing Chris Ashton is examined after taking a bang to the head, England v South Africa, Twickenham, London, England, November 27, 2010
England wing Chris Ashton was concussed during last year's clash with South Africa © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Chris Ashton | John Fogarty | Bernard Jackman
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The IRB are in the final stages of drafting a "robust" set of guidelines to tackle the on-field treatment of suspected concussion.

The initiative will go before the IRB council in March and is designed to ensure that players are not permitted to continue in matches if there is a concern about their safety. The issue has been brought into sharp focus in recent months following the retirements of Leinster hookers John Fogarty and Bernard Jackman, while England winger Chris Ashton finished a high-profile Test against South Africa in November after taking a heavy blow to the head.

The IRB's new procedure will state that a player must be removed from the field and not return if there is any doubt about his condition. The guidelines will cover all levels of the game and referees have been reminded of their responsibility to demand players be replaced if required.

An injury audit, conducted jointly by the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players' Association shows concussion to be in the top five most common injuries in the game. An IRB source said: "If there is any doubt you should not take risks with a player's life."

The idea of so-called 'concussion bins' to allow medics more time to examine an injured player will not be introduced. It is understood the IRB fear the move would be open to abuse, just as the temporary blood replacement system was in the infamous Harlequins Bloodgate saga.

The RFU's Image of the Game task-force, set up in the wake of Bloodgate, proposed the introduction of rolling substitutes to assist medics in diagnosing concussion. But Simon Kemp, the RFU's head of sports medicine, who has been part of the IRB's working group, believes the new guidelines will make the protocols clear.

"The IRB are at the final draft stage on a new set of concussion guidelines that I expect would flag up the importance of players with symptoms of suspected concussion being removed from the field of play," Kemp said.

"Our management of players once they have come off the field of play is according to best practice. There are particular challenges around assessment in a game in which the potential for concussion is so high and players get dings the whole time.

"There are some challenges around making decisions in a short period of time on a pitch with a player who is often engaged in the next play. It will be the focus of a very robust initiative. I am very confident the position we will get to will be entirely adequate."

The injury audit, published on Monday, showed a 20% reduction in the likelihood of a player being injured in a match last season compared with 2008-09. The total number of injuries reported fell to 636 from 769, or an average of 1.6 per team per match.

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