Retirement never entered Conrad Smith's head, nor even the prospect of pulling stumps early on the Hurricanes season. Not even when he realised he'd been out cold for 45 seconds, or when he watched the ''frightening'' footage of the moment his head smashed into the hip of Bulls centre JJ Englebrecht.
Smith was a picture of health at Hurricanes training yesterday, running about with his trademark smile. And aside from some disturbingly large sideburns, he didn't look any different from the player who left New Zealand three weeks ago to play the Bulls and Cheetahs in South Africa.
Which is exactly where the whole concussion debate gets as hazy as the effects the injury has on rugby's professional players. Smith will miss Friday's Super Rugby date with the Chiefs, rest during the bye week, then contemplate a return against the Brumbies on May 31.
That would be 26 days between his injury and a return to play, a conservative spell by rugby's current guidelines. It won't satisfy everyone. Plenty of people over the past two weeks have called for him to retire, or at least take the year off. But Smith is a classic example of why head injuries in rugby create so much debate.
"I'm feeling fine,'' the 31-year-old said.
''Probably within half an hour, I actually could remember everything about the day, right up until the tackle. Other people experience mass memory loss, guys get headaches, guys can't concentrate, can't sleep - I had none of that. I'm obviously not going to take huge risks and I don't want it to happen regularly but that's all you can go on really.''
Smith admits he has a history of head knocks, but ''never more than one a year'' and never anything close to the dramatic loss of consciousness at Loftus Versfeld.
''I haven't been knocked out cold, for 40 seconds or whatever it was. So that was a bit different,'' he said.''That was the frightening thing, seeing it.''
It had scared family and friends too and he had to reassure them he felt fine despite the pictures they'd seen on television. But Smith has had no symptoms since; a sore neck the extent of his discomfort.
''Everything of the day came back to me and I even remembered right up to the point in the game, knew the score when I came off, how they'd got their points, things like that. For me anyway, that assures me a lot, you don't have that horrible feeling and then it was a matter of making sure the neck was fine. That's all I really had, just a really sore neck and everything else didn't bother me too much.''
And he went as far as to say he felt as though he could probably play this week, but was erring on the side of caution.
''We decided pretty much in the days after that I wouldn't play the following two weeks and that would give me, with the bye, effectively four weeks before the next game [against the Brumbies] and just see how I'm tracking.''
He would resume some light contact next week during the bye and take things from there including going through the necessary concussion protocols and tests.
''You do that before you're ready to play so it's quite a stringent process you go through. I'll do that later on, because I'm not playing I haven't bothered doing them.''
Is Smith at greater risk of another head injury? Is he taking an unnecessary risk by playing again this season? He clearly doesn't think so, but not everyone will agree.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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