Rugby union has, in the main, a good relationship with TV replays. Unlike football, it’s been happy to judge key decisions using a television match official. Now there’s something else that TV can help the game with: keeping players safe.
Everyone watching at home could immediately see that something wasn’t right when winger George North hit the deck during Wales’s Six Nations match against England. He had already been treated for a bang on the head earlier in the game, but the way North collapsed after another hit clearly suggested that, even if only for a moment, he didn’t have a clue where he was.
“That looks to me as though he is definitely concussed,” commentator Brian Moore said straight away.
We could see it at home; the medical staff couldn’t. North played on despite the threat of concussion, prompting an investigation from governing body World Rugby.
They concluded that George North should not have stayed on the pitch: “The World Rugby head injury protocol clearly states that a player should be immediately and permanently removed from the field of play where there are any visible symptoms or suspicion of a potential concussion,” a statement read.
These guidelines aren’t just there for World Rugby to cover their backs. Recent research has linked repeated hits to the head with long-term brain damage, so-called dementia pugilistica (‘the boxer’s disease’). Now evidence of that damage has been found in retired rugby players.
The World Rugby panel didn’t blame the Welsh medical staff for their actions. Instead, they pointed out that if the doctors had seen the same footage as the rest of us, North wouldn’t have been on the field.
“World Rugby accepts the WRU’s explanation that neither the team medical staff nor the independent doctor had sight of the incident and understands that the medics acted within the framework of information they had at the time and would have taken a different course of action had they had direct pitch-side visibility or access to the same broadcast footage seen by those watching on television,” the governing body said.
TV, Radio Times is happy to say, is the answer.
Match officials already rule on tries. Why not get them to help in the much more important issue of player welfare? TV reviews wouldn’t slow down the game. A pitch-side medic always takes their time when assessing an injured player, and while that’s going on someone in the stands could be looking at the replay and feeding information back to the referee and the doctors.
World Rugby’s message is simple: recognise and remove. Anything that TV cameras can do to help in the former will help the pros take care of the latter.
There is one troublesome coda to this. Unlike the Welsh medics, the BBC’s pundit Jonathan Davies did have the chance to see the replays. His response? A dim joke.
“His form didn’t go down after he’d had a bang on the head because he was dreadful from the start,” Davies said after the game. Former England head coach Clive Woodward sniggered at this incisive analysis.
Concussion is no laughing matter, and that sort of dumb levity only goes to show why the rest of us need to take it more seriously. Perhaps an extra replay or two might knock some sense into us.