Smith: It's time to put Read in Dr Deb's hands

TONY SMITH
Last updated 05:00 07/06/2014
Kieran Read
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MAN DOWN: All Blacks No 8 Kieran Read sitting out an All Blacks training session in Auckland with head complaints.

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OPINION: Should the New Zealand Rugby Union give concussion victim Kieran Read a sabbatical for the rest of the season?

Is the international rugby player of the year too valuable to risk?

Wouldn't it be better to launch a Cottonwool Kieran campaign to ensure the All Blacks' ace No 8 is in tip-top shape for World Cup year?

Yes, there would be short-term pain, for both the All Blacks and the Crusaders. Todd Blackadder's team could dearly do with their talismanic skipper in the run-in to the Super Rugby playoffs.

But Read's health is paramount.

You can't fault his treatment so far. The rugby medics have rightly erred on the side of caution.

There's no-one in the rugby world more experienced at dealing with the deleterious effects of concussion than Crusaders' doctor Deb Robinson or her All Blacks colleague, Tony Page.

Player welfare is their primary motivation. There's no chance of a Florian Fritz incident on their watch. The French centre was knocked out and covered in blood in a Top 14 semifinal last month. He left the pitch in a groggy state, but he was back 14 minutes later, at the urging of his Toulouse coach. He retired at halftime, with seven stitches and five staples in his head wound.

A commentator called the decision "bonkers". Former International Rugby Board medical adviser Dr Barry O'Driscoll slammed it as a "irresponsible".

"If rugby doesn't wake up to this and start demonstrating a zero tolerance approach to head injuries, it will be storing up some very serious legal problems for itself," O'Driscoll said.

Read is a responsible man, cognisant he has a wife and children to support. He wouldn't take unnecessary risks.

But it's worrying that he again suffered symptoms after his first game back for the Crusaders after a six-week stand-down.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has warned against "kneejerk or alarmist conclusions".

No-one is suggesting Read's career hangs in the balance. But the reality is the only cure for concussion is rest. Should Read be granted a long one?

Some top All Blacks have negotiated sabbaticals to mentally refresh and escape the goldfish bowl existence of being a big fish in our small pond. Others - notably Dan Carter during his shortlived stint with Perpignan - have been allowed to take up lucrative short-term overseas deals.

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Is anyone more deserving of a full-pay breather than Kieran Read?

He will want to play. Any elite athlete does.

But giving him the rest of the season off would have a spin-off benefit by allowing Hansen to build depth before the World Cup and give Jerome Kaino, Victor Vito or even Richie McCaw game-time at No 8.

Hansen may be loath to make such a call at this juncture - and he's probably right on that score. If a week's a long time in politics - ask John Banks - then a month is an eternity in sport.

The All Blacks' boss would no doubt love to have a fully-fit Read on board for the Rugby Championship and the end-of-year northern hemisphere tour, which will be a dummy-run for the World Cup.

But, at least, give Read the rest of the England series off. The All Blacks don't need him to beat Stuart Lancaster's mob.

Re-evaluate his fitness then and assess if he's ready to return to the Super Rugby fray.

Concussion's a topical subject in rugbydom right now.

Former Chiefs captain Craig Clarke has been forced to quit his contract with Connacht and retire, due to repeated head knocks.

The Irish club's Kiwi coach, Pat Lam, claimed Clarke was concussed 10 times in 22 months - a figure denied by his former Chiefs coach Dave Rennie.

Former Kiwis rugby league international Shontayne Hape, who won 13 caps for the England rugby union team, also confirmed this month that was forced to retire from French club Montpellier after suffering more than 20 concussions in his dual-code career.

Hape, 33, suffered a range of serious symptoms, including depression, constant migraines and memory loss.

The New Zealand rugby public can be confident Read is in good hands. Dr Robinson is adept at handling concussion cases and successfully shepherded Leon MacDonald and McCaw back to full fitness after their head knock bouts.

It's in New Zealand rugby's best interests to protect their greatest asset.

Dr Deb can be trusted to do just that.

- The Press

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