World Rugby's HIA protocols are 'failing', say player welfare group

World Rugby’s HIA protocols are ‘failing’, insist player welfare group – who blast decision to allow Ireland captain Johnny Sexton to play in second Test against New Zealand – despite being forced off in opening defeat due to a feared concussion

Rugby’s head injury assessment (HIA) protocols have been slammed once again after Johnny Sexton was selected for Ireland’s second Test with New Zealand.

Ireland captain Sexton, 36, was forced off in the first of his team’s three matches with the All Blacks at Eden Park last weekend after failing a HIA following a collision with Sam Cane.

An initial HIA identifies suspected concussion, but Sexton has been deemed fit to play this weekend after passing two more stringent tests in the days that followed.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton has been cleared to play against New Zealand on Saturday despite being forced off in the first Test on July 2 due to a suspected concussion

The 36-year-old fly-half was forced off after failing a HIA following a collision with Sam Cane

Sexton was left stricken on the floor and holding his head after the incident at Eden Park

In doing so, he was diagnosed as not suffering with concussion.

Progressive Rugby, a lobby group promoting player welfare and awareness of concussion in sport, believe Sexton should have been treated with caution.

That is particularly the case given his record of past head knocks.

‘Elite players who fail an in-game HIA1 have, by definition, displayed cognitive dysfunction requiring their removal,’ said a Progressive Rugby spokesperson.

‘In our view, this is sufficient evidence, regardless of subsequent testing, to exercise extreme caution for the good of both their short and long-term health.

‘This caution must be further amplified in players with a history of brain injury, as evidence is they are at higher risk of sustaining further concussions and other injuries.’

Sexton’s has not been the only concussion incident in this summer’s internationals.

England flanker Tom Curry and Wales prop Tomas Francis both suffered head knocks in their team’s first Tests with Australia and South Africa respectively.

Sexton trudges off the pitch after being deemed not fit enough to carry on vs the All Blacks

The two players – who like Sexton have suffered with concussion in the past – have been sent home to rest and stood down from duty.

In Ireland’s game with the Maori All Blacks, their prop Jeremy Loughman returned to the field despite exhibiting clear signs of concussion.

Loughman passed his initial HIA, but a review into the incident by New Zealand Rugby adjudicated the player should not have been allowed back on the pitch.

Progressive Rugby’s spokesperson added: ‘Regrettably, the HIA is being exposed.

‘Last week the process again failed to diagnose a clear and obvious brain injury [Loughman], while three days later we are told it has identified a phantom one [Sexton].

‘The fact is there remains no examination by any expert that can demonstrate a brain has healed and is not at risk of further damage.

‘As such, if player welfare is truly the game’s No 1 priority, the only option must be to err on the side of caution – otherwise the new elite protocols are failing in their key purpose.’

England flanker Tom Curry has been ruled out of the remainder of the series in Australia

The 24-year-old suffered a concussion during the first half of England’s defeat in Perth

At the start of this month, World Rugby introduced a new ruling that a player who had suffered concussion must be stood down for a minimum of 12 days. The previous rule was seven days.

That has led to some confusion over how Sexton can be allowed to play this weekend.

But because the two-time British & Irish Lion passed the second and third stages of the HIA protocol – which are more stringent than the first – he has been diagnosed as not concussed.

Under World Rugby’s rulings, he is therefore clear to play.

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