Head injuries return to the agenda after North KO

The fallout from Wales’ opening Six Nations defeat to bitter rivals England rumbles on, in particular the controversy surrounding the failure of the Welsh to bring off George North, who was knocked out 60 minutes into the 16-21 defeat at the Millennium Stadium.

North, a key figure in Warren Gatland’s squad for the series, appeared to be knocked momentarily unconscious after a clash of heads with teammate Richard Hibbard while the pair tackled England’s Mike Brown close to the Welsh try-line.

However the WRFU’s medical staff failed to recognise that North had been knocked out, with television pictures quite clearly showing the Wales wing’s body go limp in the moments following the collision with Hibbard.

The implications of any head injuries have been well documented recently, following controversy in football over Tottenham Hotspur’s decision not to substitute goalkeeper Hugo Lloris after a similar injury, and North was immediately pulled out of this gone weekend’s game with Scotland.

The seriousness of head injuries in sport is perfectly exemplified by the tragic case of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died in November after being struck on the head by a cricket ball which penetrated his helmet’s defences.

Wales’ medical staff has come under scrutiny in light of these events, and have been accused of carelessness in terms of failure to protect their players. It must be pointed out though that North was KO’d for a matter of seconds before returning to his feet apparently unaffected.

This incident highlights how quickly a player can be knocked unconscious and get straight back up without any exterior evidence to suggest injury. There have been suggestions that the video referee should be responsible for reporting such incidents to the match officials to allow players who suffer such injuries to be taken off as soon as they are injured.

A concussion can lead to the brain taking in less blood and oxygen vital to its continuing function, while multiple concussions can be potentially fatal – North earlier in the match suffered an accidental boot to the head, but was fortunately not knocked out in this instance. An article run by the Science section in issue 1040 of Gair Rhydd explains the implications in detail

As well as the medical team Warren Gatland himself has come under fire in some bizarre theories claiming that he knowingly left North on the field in the full knowledge that his player could potentially be suffering concussion. This of course is unlikely and an unhelpful accusation in what is a contentious and delicate subject.


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