Concussion in Rugby

Concussion, a word that is causing massive debate in Rugby Union and the World of Sport at the moment. But what is Concussion? Lets take a look at the definition:

“Concussion is a jarring of the brain, caused by a blow or a fall, usually resulting in loss of consciousness.”

In a high impact sport like Rugby Union the chances of a player suffering a concussion are pretty high. According to Rugby Football Union data, concussion is the most common injury in the professional game, with 5.1 instances for every 1000 hours of rugby played. The reason concussion is causing so much debate is that many people involved with the game believe that players are being made to risk serious injury, or even death, by the introduction of the International Rugby Board’s pitch-side concussion assessment (PSCA).

This recent IRB initiative is designed to improve player safety but there are many that argue that is simply not the case. Barry O’Driscoll is one that is firmly against it, the Cheshire-based doctor, uncle of Irish legend Brian O’Driscoll is a troubled man. For 15 years the former Ireland full-back has been one of rugby union’s insiders, and as a respected expert, he sat on the International Rugby Board (IRB) medical committee. But he is now at loggerheads with the game he loves over the issue of concussion, and has resigned in protest at the decision to trial a new protocol for dealing with head injuries, the PSCA. Under the previous IRB approach, any player suspected of suffering from concussion had to leave the pitch and take a week off, a period already reduced from three weeks under an earlier rule. The new guidelines say a player can return to the game just five minutes after the injury, providing a medical inspection clears him of concussion.


In your opinion, how thorough are these pitch-side evaluations?

O’Driscoll is firmly against the new idea and says:

“For someone with suspected concussion, all the top scientists say you take them off and watch them that night. If they incorporate the ‘five-minute rule’ I think you’re putting people with brain damage back on the field, and the arena they’re going back into is brutal.”

One such example of the flaws of the new initiative was during the British and Irish Lions Test decider earlier last year where an extremely groggy George Smith was helped off the field by two of the Wallaby staff after being knocked out cold in a head clash with Richard Hibbard. To the amazement of fans worldwide, Smith returned to the field and played out the remainder of the match. How he was able to pass the concussion test is anyone’s guess, but everyone watching the game, Smith was clearly concussed and should not have returned to the field. O’Driscoll’s prescription for rugby is to air on the side of caution: anyone suspected of concussion sits out for a mandatory week.

So what does the IRB say in response?

“Players are more than a stone heavier (7.2kg) than they were 20 years ago, and the force of their collisions can be the equivalent of what the body experiences in a car crash. Prior to the PSCA triage tool, players were being assessed on the field by team medics under considerable pressure in a match environment,” an IRB spokesman said. “Data suggests that 56% of players with a post-match confirmed concussion returned to the field under the previous protocol. In the first year of the PSCA trial that figure has dropped to 13%.” The IRB also said referees have been asked to crack down on deliberate hits to the head, and an age-specific approach is being taken to when a player is ready to return.

Younger, more vulnerable, players must sit out longer than a week. O’Driscoll is not convinced. For him, if a player is injured enough to warrant a pitch-side assessment, he should be suspected of concussion and withdrawn. Five minutes is not long enough, he says, to assess the extent of any potential brain trauma.

So what is the solution for Concussion in Rugby?

Surely players safety has to be paramount in this day and age. The IRB should look at its’ current stance on concussion and see if what they are doing is protecting players in a high collision sport or putting them at risk.

Below is a short video made by NZ Rugby highlighting the responsibility in the head clash scenario and best practice in following it. To view it, click here.



In summary, Concussion is a very serious topic with regard to the modern game of rugby. With the added size, speed and skill of our players and coaches, safety has to be taken seriously. Now obviously there are going to be accidents because rugby is a high intensity and physically gruelling sport where injuries occur, but to what extent we allow them to is purely dependent on our medical professionals and supervising staff. If you have experienced or observed a concussion in rugby before, we encourage you to leave a comment below as some feedback. If you’re ever looking to learn more about rugby coaching, visit our homepage for expert videos addressing rugby coaching, physio and player skills.

Yours in rugby,

Sam Lindsay



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Sam Lindsay is the Director at Global Rugby, a website that provides Rugby Coaches, Clubs and Schools with rugby training and coaching videos. You can connect with Sam on Google +, Facebook and LinkedIn or click through to check out some other great articles in the Global Rugby News section.

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