I don’t know whether it will be in the first World Cup game next month, between New Zealand and Tonga, or in the last between whoever makes the final, or indeed in how many games between those points, but you can take it that there will be more than a few incidents of players staggering on to the finish having been concussed. It is dumb because it is so dangerous, and it is avoidable.
What I didn’t know until an IRB briefing earlier today, is that the advent of independent medics will do nothing to improve the situation. And that is plainly ridiculous.
Having an independent doc on hand is not revolutionary in rugby, and at most Test matches now you’ll have dental, orthopaedic and maxillofacial surgeons on the premises to help with anything that arises in any of those areas. They are there to be consulted, not to stick their oar in.
But there is an idea out there that having ‘independent medics’ on hand at this World Cup will add to the security of players suffering from concussion. In other words that a medic with no attachment to either team can intervene when he sees someone staggering around like Bambi on ice and declare him unfit to continue. Not so.
The fact that this World Cup will have independent medics on hand was introduced by the IRB at the briefing as if it were a comfort blanket. Rather, it emerged after an uncomfortbale few minutes, that it’s a bit of bed linen that will stay in the closet. At least as far as concussion is concerned. So team doctors will still make the call on whether or not a player who has had his bell rung is fit to continue.
The last person who will tell the truth in this instance is the player, for he deals only in the here and now, and wants to get on with the business of winning. And in the heat of battle, with the player wanting to continue, and the coach evidently happy for him to do so, how many team docs are going to overrule both and haul the player off?
There is an IRB medical conference scheduled for November at which concussion will be on the agenda. You’d imagine that whatever happens at the World Cup will further inform that conference. We are about to witness the most advanced tournament yet, light years ahead of the 1987 gig in terms of the speed of the game, the size and the power of the people who play it, and length of time the ball is in play. All of those factors increase the potential for being concussed. The fact that there will be independent medics there, who will see people playing on when they should be taken off, and can do nothing about it, is perhaps the most worrying example of how the game is getting beyond those who control it.