George North’s most recent ‘concussion’ incident has lead to two things: North having to contemplate his future in rugby and Northampton Saints facing an inquest.

On Saturday night, the 24 year old jumped to claim a bouncing ball and was taken out in the air by Leicester Tigers winger Adam Thompstone.

North appeared to land face down and, even if for a short period of time, lose consciousness – so you can imagine the shock when six minutes later North returned to the field having passed his head injury assessment (HIA).

The protocol regarding concussion is quite simple. If a player is suspected of a head injury they must go for a HIA, however if there is any suspicion whatsoever that a player has been knocked out, they must leave the field for the rest of the game.

To anyone watching on BT Sport, it was quite clear that the Wales winger was unconscious – which begs the question, why was he allowed to continue?

The original story coming from the Saints camp was that North was worried about a neck injury and hence lay as still as possible on the floor to protect himself. However to those watching at home it was apparent that North was unconscious.

The club released this statement on their website:

“George was attended to by the Northampton Saints medical team rapidly after landing on his side following a challenge in the air by Adam Thompstone. George was communicating immediately with attending medics and complaining of neck pain. Significant neck injury was excluded on the field but on review of video footage pitch side, the team followed World Rugby protocols and used a Head Injury Assessment given the potential mechanism for head injury. George was fully assessed by the doctor and passed fit to return to play. Northampton Saints places the highest importance on player care and their safety is the club’s primary concern”.

However, North has now been stood down by the club to have a full check up by an external specialist and will have to meet all required protocol before returning to training and ultimately playing.

Saints have since said they admit that North should have been removed from the field, sighting the lack of video footage available to them as their reasoning for missing the winger being unconscious.

Now this raises a few issues. Firstly; if it will aid player safety, why are the medics and club officials not given access to said footage? Secondly – as the bosses from BT Sport have pointed out, the incident was played 5 or 6 times on the big screen so to deny that they would have seen the incident is appalling.

‘It would have been absolutely extraordinary and highly unusual if the designated concussion spotter had not been able to access exactly the same footage the television audience had, Even, in the highly unlikely event the feed wasn’t adequate and the spotter could not see the footage on their ipad, what about the countless times the incident was replayed on the big screen?  Are they seriously saying not one member of Northampton’s medical or coaching team saw those replays? It is simply not plausible. They’re using diversionary tactics to distract from the fact they messed up very badly and are now back-peddling.’

The above was a quote from the understandably angered bosses at BT Sport to the Daily Mail.

Northampton Saints are already having a season that is far below their expected standards. This could only make it worse as George North will be on the sidelines for an indefinite amount of time. You have to hope that Saints didn’t decide the match was more important than the health and well being of one of their players.

Unfortunately for North this is not the first time he has been involved in a concussion incident. In a six nations game against England in 2015 North was apparently knocked unconscious twice and allowed to play the full 80 minutes by the welsh medical team. In a game earlier in the season he had also been taken off with concussion against New Zealand and a few weeks later he was knocked unconscious in an accidental collision with Wasps and England forward Nathan Hughes when scoring a try.

This was his fourth substantial head injury in five months and consequently didn’t play from March 27th until August. At the time of these injuries it was well publicised that another serious blow to the head for the 24 year old could end his career.

It is a great shame for the image of rugby in England that North was allowed to continue on Saturday night, something Saints will no doubt have to answer for and be punished for in due course. However, sole blame can’t be put on Northampton. Referees have the ultimate say over whether or not a player is on the pitch. Under law 3.10 the officials could have denied Saints putting North back into the game. Experienced referee JP Doyle took charge and furthermore the incident happened not five feet from the linesman. It would have been a big call to make, but perhaps Doyle should have intervened to prevent any further threat to North’s health and in fact his playing career.

 

However, aside from whose fault it was was that he did continue, all thoughts have got to be with the British and Irish Lions winger at this time. Since breaking onto he scene he has been instrumental for wales in reaching a world cup semi-final and in winning the Six Nations grand slam in 2012. Similarly, he played a massive part in the Lions historic series victory over Australia in 2013. He was, and hopefully is, also set to play to play a big part when the Lions go and face world number one side the All Blacks in New Zealand next summer.

North will be meeting with specialists in the very near future and hopefully he will be fit to line up once more – it would be a great shame for his career to be over at just 24.

 

George Berry.

 

 

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