Questions have been asked of rugby’s head injury protocols after Wallabies star Nic White was allowed to play on despite seemingly exhibiting concussion-like symptoms in Australia’s defeat to Ireland.
White went down after tackling Mack Hansen and took another hit moments later from Josh van der Flier while in possession of the ball.
The first hit was observed by Australia’s team doctor and the independent match day doctor, however, the second hit was reportedly missed while they reviewed the footage of the first.
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White left the field in the 48th minute to undergo a head injury assessment (HIA) but returned shortly thereafter having been cleared by the independent doctor.
Footage showed White stumbling while speaking with a Wallabies physio, which was noted by referee Ben O’Keeffe.
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“I think he needs to go off,” O’Keeffe can be heard saying during the match coverage.
“And I saw him stumble as well.”
Under World Rugby’s rules, a player with a concussion or a suspected concussion “should be immediately and permanently removed from training or play”.
Being unsteady, having balance problems, or having poor coordination is enough to warrant removing a player from the field.
A day after the 13-10 loss, the Wallabies confirmed White had suffered a concussion.
In a statement, the Wallabies confirmed the assessment had been upgraded from a criteria two HIA – where a diagnosis is not immediately apparent – to criteria one.
White will serve a 12-day stand-down period, meaning he will not contest the final match of this year’s spring tour against Wales in Cardiff.
The Wallabies said he was “not exhibiting any symptoms of concussion post-match or the following day” and White said post-match that he felt fine.
“I was pulled off by the physio to do an HIA, I felt fine,” he said.
“I passed my HIA, I went back on. I remember everything, clear as day, I feel fine. I feel good. I passed my HIA and I was good to go.
“How often do I run out of the corner out of a lineout and get bashed by three blokes? I was just a little ginger, I’m fine mate.”
The decision to let White continue playing has been brandished by the not-for-profit rugby union lobby group Progressive Rugby.
Former Irish rugby player Rob Kearney was bemused by the decision to let White return to the field.
“For me, that’s pretty uncomfortable viewing,” he said.
“There’s so much talk about concussion in our game. We’re watching documentaries, we’re hearing of legal court cases, I’ve had a few concussions in my career and sometimes wonder if am I going to be okay in five or 10 years time.
“I look at an image like that and it’s tough to watch. We have a little bit of disagreement in the studio when it happened, but for me, there’s no way he should be returning to the field of play.”
However, Australia’s Matt Williams, who coached Leinster and Ulster, defended the attending doctors.
“Look, I totally disagree. We’re not doctors. Talk about scrums, talk about lineouts, I’m over it. He goes off to an independent doctor, the doctors look at the footage and they decide,” he said.
“There could be 101 reasons why he stumbles. He’s just been smashed inside a ruck. It hurts. It hurts your ribs. I’m not defending it, I’m just saying it’s not our place to judge because it’s a medical decision.
“Climate change, we’ve got to trust the science. Medical science, we’ve got to trust the science. He goes in and doctors with protocols allow him to go back on.”
Australia will play Wales at 2.15am (AEDT) on Sunday, November 27.
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