From the All Blacks to under tens, rugby players are suffering concussion in ever greater numbers
Nineteen-year-old Daniel Baldwin – dead after a blow to the head on the rugby field this week. Then yesterday, in a black-armband match to remember him, his team-mate Teua Rawiri was knocked down and left convulsing on the ground:
A minute's silence had been held in honour of Baldwin before his Wellington Football Club Colts team took on the Avalon Wolves at Hataitai Park. But yesterday's game, too, had to be called off before 80 minutes were played.
Last night, some experts and rugby fans came together: enough is enough.
Just this weekend, four New Zealand Super rugby players suffered concussion injuries. The Blues' Piers Francis, Crusaders and All Black star Ryan Crotty, and Chiefs duo Sam McNicol and Stephen Donald all went down with concussion. Crusaders captain Matt Todd, too, was ruled out of their clash with the Chiefs with ongoing concussion issues.
And a week after his comeback from a year-long concussion-related injury, Chiefs star Charlie Ngatai was scratched from the team on Thursday after suffering more headaches.
Expert Dr Doug King is on the sidelines every week checking players as young as nine for concussion. He sees at least one case a week, he estimates.
Rugby clubs around the country have taken up a "blue card system" where players with suspected concussions can be sent off if referees aren't satisfied with their answers to questions.
That was a step in the right direction, King said, but more needed to be done.
A simple US-designed screening test, the King-Devick test, should be brought into use at rugby games around the country. "It can be done by anyone on the sidelines," he said
"I think that people underestimate what a concussion is," he said. "Although there has been steps in the right direction, further steps need to be taken in regards to management. We need that part of rest and recovery."
Today Newshub journalist Mike McRoberts, a former rugby player who has seen his own son stretchered off with concussion, says administrators have been turning a lind eye for too long.
"The power and potency of the impact is frightening," he writes in the Sunday Star-Times. "And it's not just at the elite level – it filters down through all the grades. It's just too damned dangerous."
McRoberts has researched and reported on concussion in sport.
"I've loved rugby as a player and a spectator for as long as I can remember," he says. "But something needs to happen, changes need to be made. The enjoyment of our game shouldn't come at any cost."
Daniel Baldwin died on Wednesday after collapsing during a rugby game last weekend.
Yesterday, flowers had been laid around the Wellington Rugby Clubrooms. "We never really have that. It's usually men, women and kids, sausage rolls and tomato sauce, that kind of thing," said Keith Quinn, the club president.
After the injury to Rawiri, spectators called an ambulance and his team-mates rushed to cover him with blankets.
A Wellington Free Ambulance spokeswoman confirmed Rawiri was taken to Wellington Public with a head injury, reportedly from a tackle. He was initially knocked unconscious but was conscious and cracking jokes by the time he was lifted into the ambulance. He was transported to hospital in a stable condition.
A member of the Avalon Wolves team was also taken to hospital, and later discharged.
Quinn rejected suggestions anything more could have been done to protect players from concussion, downplaying Rawiri's injury as a "heavy cut to the head".
The games was called off only because there was uncertainty when the Rawiri collapsed, he said.
Clubs couldn't prevent concussions, he said. They could only take steps to better identify players who sustained possible concussions.
"Can you stop a car crash?"
- Sunday Star Times