Northland leads concussion fight with blue card

LIAM NAPIER
Last updated 09:51 23/02/2014
Conrad Smith
Photosport
KNOCKOUT: Hurricanes captain Conrad Smith was concussed while tackling a Bulls player in Pretoria last season.

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Northland Rugby is set to take a leading role in the prevention of concussion by implementing a blue card system that will see amateurs removed from the field and forced to consult a doctor before being cleared to play.

The scheme was founded by National MP Mike Sabin after his son, Darryl, suffered a catastrophic brain injury that almost claimed his life following repeated head knocks during rugby.

The initiative, which has been approved by the New Zealand Rugby Union and International Rugby Board, comes to fruition from March 1st. It will cover school's first XV competition and all 58 Northland clubs - stretching from Wellsford to the tip of the North Island. The area has 7000 registered players.

"We're trying to protect our players a little better," Northland operations manager Greg Shipton said. "A lot of our physiotherapists and medical staff have been reporting that players who suffer a concussion are continuing to play. It's come from our stakeholders so we're trying to minimise the risks.

"We're going to report back to the NZRU and we'd like it to go nation-wide."

Unlike the professional arena, where strict rules and regulations are now in place around the treatment and diagnosis of concussion, out of the limelight the amateur game remains a major concern.

Prevalent bravado is a dangerous undercurrent when it comes to head knocks.

"The advantage of professional rugby is the doctors on the sideline know player's history," Shipton said. "You don't have that luxury with amateur players."

The blue card system places responsibility on referees to adjudicate on whether concussion symptoms, such as memory loss and disorientation, are displayed.

"We're not asking them to be rocket scientists. It's as simple as seeing a player is not reacting as they should," he said. "A lot of the time when a player gets a head knock they don't know they're right, so we've taken it out of their hands."

Players shown blue cards must leave the field instantly and not return. They are then required to follow the ACC-endorsed return to play guidelines and get a signed pre-made letter from a doctor.

The Northland Rugby Union will foot the bill for medical consultation, so there are no excuses about not being able to afford the one-off fee.

Clubs who field a player without official clearance will be docked points from that round, plus an additional five competition points.

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Shipton doesn't expect any on-field arguments between referees and players.

"It's like a red card. There is no argument. Once it's issued you're gone.

"Everyone is a bit gun shy about saying their sport has an issue with concussion. We've all watched league and seen players get knocked out and see them running out the tunnel five minutes later. That can't be good for anyone."

- Fairfax Media

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