NEW rules intended to ensure rugby players sit out their next match after a concussion have been announced the world game's govening body.

Under new criteria, which is implemented in the global elite game from July 1, the vast majority of players diagnosed with concussion are set to face an increased minimum stand-down period of 12 days.

It follows the latest review of scientific evidence and rugby-specific research by World Rugby’s 17-strong independent concussion working group.

The Welsh Rugby Union, with some other governing bodies, is facing legal action over alleged failures to protect players from concussion risks.

The case brought by more than 200 former players, including ex Wales international Alix Popham, has increased awarness of the risk from head injuries as has a legal case brought by former American Football players against the NFL.

During this season's Six Nations championship Wales was at the centre of a concussion controversy over a failure to remove prop Tomas Francis from the game against England after a head injury.

Television footage showed the 29-year-old Wales staggering near his own try line following a clash with team-mate Owen Watkin, while he appeared to require the pads of the posts to hold himself up after getting back to his feet.

He was subsequently taken off the pitch for assessment by an independent match-day doctor and, having been deemed fit to continue, played until the 56th minute.

The National Wales: Tomas Francis of Wales who was at the centre of discussions over safety procedures following a head injury during this year's Six Nations championship. Picture: PATomas Francis of Wales who was at the centre of discussions over safety procedures following a head injury during this year's Six Nations championship. Picture: PA

A review panel later concluded Francis should have been “immediately and permanently removed” from the field during the February fixture. 

Campaign group Progressive Rugby said following the game Francis should have been immediately removed while the WRU said the player was removed for a Head Injury Assessment (HIA) with the independent match-day doctor in line with procedures agreed before the game.

Despite the concern at the failure to immediately remove Francis from the game he was selected for Wales next fixture, against France, which was 13 days later.

At the time Professor John Fairclough, a leading surgeon who has previously worked with the Welsh Rugby Union, has said it would be "a grave mistake" if Francis was selected to face France. He had signed Progressive Rugby's open letter that said Francis should have been removed.

The changes to rules around concussion today are based around the procedures in place between games - but the 12 day stand down would not have prevented Francis from playing against France had it been in place for this year's championship.

READ MORE: Concussion protocols 'not fit for purpose' say former players

Currently, a player who fails a head injury assessment could conceivably feature again the following weekend, provided they follow and pass return-to-play protocols.

“The evolved approach will see players with a history of concussion or who are removed from a match with obvious concussion symptoms, sit out from play for a minimum of 12 days, likely missing their next competitive match,” World Rugby said.

“No player will return earlier than the seventh day after injury, and any player’s return will need to be approved by an independent concussion consultant.”

The procedure will be in place for overseas Tests next month when Wales travel to South Africa while England, Scotland and Ireland will also be in action.

Protocols that define a player with a history of concussion include a concussion diagnosis in the previous three months, three concussions diagnosed in the previous 12 months, a player who has been diagnosed with five concussions in their career, and a player who has taken longer than 21 days to recover from a previous concussion.

World Rugby’s chief medical officer Eanna Falvey added: “It is going to be a new mindset for coaches and players.

“Our approach means it is now overwhelmingly likely a player diagnosed with a concussion won’t play in their team’s next match.

“World Rugby firmly believes that scientific evidence supports our protocols, but we are continually monitoring and testing them to ensure that they are fit for the modern game.

“We recognise that there are differences in concussion symptoms and concussion history, and this process enables us to further protect elite players by individualising their rehabilitation.

“It also keeps in place all the benefits of the previous protocols, which have been so successful in beginning to tackle under-reporting of symptoms which evidence shows that, while improving, remains an issue.”

The National Wales: Argentina's Guido Petti Pagadizaval suffered a concussion while scoring a try against the New Zealand All Blacks during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyArgentina's Guido Petti Pagadizaval suffered a concussion while scoring a try against the New Zealand All Blacks during the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Lobby group Progressive Rugby has campaigned for World Rugby to extend the return to play period since February last year.

And a number of former players are part of a legal case against World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Welsh Rugby Union over an alleged failure to protect them from concussion risks.

A Progressive Rugby spokesperson said: “While long overdue and not the perfect solution, this is a positive step for elite player welfare and will prevent most elite players from being exposed to extreme and unnecessary risk.

“It is also welcome acknowledgement for our members, who have long held grave concerns around this flawed protocol and lobbied tirelessly for it to be extended.

“However, while undoubtably a victory for player welfare, the journey is not complete and Progressive Rugby will continue working to ensure that the great game of rugby can be enjoyed by future generations.”


World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin added: “There are always going to be head impacts and there are always going to be concussions in rugby, so we are never going to eradicate that with the nature of the sport we have.

“But we want people comfortable that we have got a game that is safe to play at all levels and the sport is doing its best to protect and look after players’ safety and welfare.

“We are making progress, there are lots of areas where we have advanced. You can never do too much in this area.

“The key for us is to keep advancing with the science, and keep advancing as quickly as possible.”

Additional reporting: Twm Owen

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