Tasman puts focus on rugby concussion

Former All Black Leon MacDonald is backing a simplified approach to educate the rugby public on the dangers of concussion.

The Tasman Rugby Union is currently developing a system that it believes will popularise good concussion management in grassroots rugby.

The union is seeking to form a partnership with a medical organisation to help manufacture and distribute a wallet-sized card with a clear six-step guide to recognise and deal with concussion. The union hopes that every parent, player, coach and manager will have the card in their possession by the end of the month.

The primary goal is to make the game safer for players by raising awareness around reorganisation and treatment of concussion. The ideal outcome would be to get the message on a par with the familiar RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) technique, used to treat soft tissue injuries.

MacDonald, the Tasman Makos assistant coach, believes an uncomplicated approach is the best way to achieve a broad impact.

"Do I back a simplified approach? Absolutely I do," he said. "The easier [it is to get information], the clearer it becomes and the more understanding people have, it has got to be better."

MacDonald played 56 tests for the All Blacks from 2000 to 2008 and was concussed numerous times. His career was ended by a serious concussion, sustained while playing in a pre-season for Japanese club Kintetsu in 2010.

"When I was younger, we were a bit more ignorant, we just didn't know [about concussion management]. Even as a professional, we didn't know a huge amount.

"Now there has been a lot of research, we understand the injury a lot better, we are getting wiser about how to treat it and we are taking it more seriously."

The ACC currently has a pocket-sized resource called "sideline concussion check", which has ample information with two separate sheets that both fold out three times. The detail adds up to about 550 words in total.

Tasman Rugby Union boss Tony Lewis believes a simplified version is the best way to reach the vast majority of rugby public. It will direct people where to go for more detailed information.

"Everyone who coaches has the ACC card," said Lewis. "We want a simpler card that everyone can use and we think we have been very proactive in developing this."

Tasman's effort to educate the rugby public comes alongside a sustained push from governing bodies to improve concussion management in rugby.

Last month the International Rugby Board released a comprehensive education model called "Recognise and Remove", complete with online tools and information posters.

The NZRU and Northland rugby are trialling a blue card system where the referee can remove a player showing concussion symptoms from the field. That player is then tracked by the union and not able to return to play without medical clearance.

If the NZRU roll out the blue card system, Tasman will happily implement it. But Lewis has concerns that the onus is being placed on referees, who already "have enough on their plate."

Lewis said he and commercial manager Les Edwards came up with the plan to implement their own education system after learning of the case of Ben Robinson, a 14-year-old who died while playing rugby for his school in Northern Ireland. The cause of death was a rare condition called Second Impact Syndrome, but, at heart, he took too many head knocks in a short space of time.

"If those six steps were in place, that young boy in Ireland wouldn't have died," said Lewis. "It is that simple."


1. RECOGNISE the signs and symptoms

2. REMOVE the player from the field

3. REFER to a healthcare professional at the ground and again later if signs and symptoms remain

4. REST until symptom-free (Rest means no exertion of any kind, rest eyes and brain as much as possible)

5. RECOVER – gradually ease back into exercise

6. RETURN when a healthcare professional gives the OK. 

The Nelson Mail