LONDON (Reuters) - English rugby’s decision not to sanction Northampton Saints for their handling of George North’s concussion against Leicester has been widely criticised, with one former international branding it “a disgrace”.
The rugby players’ union (RPA) and a brain injury charity also took issue with the conclusion of a three-man RFU panel that the club did not deserve punishment despite wrongly allowing the Welshman to resume playing after sustaining the injury in the Premiership game earlier this month.
Wednesday’s findings prompted a fierce debate in the sport about player welfare, with former South Africa international Alistair Hargreaves, who was forced to retire earlier this season following a concussion injury, expressing outrage.
“Is that what we call player welfare? What a depressing day for rugby,” the former Saracens captain wrote on Twitter.
“[The] decision made by CMRG (Concussion Management Review Group) is a disgrace.”
Former England flanker Lewis Moody also believed the RFU was wrong not to punish Saints.
“For there to be an outcome saying he shouldn’t have been allowed back on the pitch, but for the club not to have been sanctioned - what message does that send to the other clubs?,” he told the BBC.
Canada’s Jamie Cudmore, a veteran of four World Cups, tweeted: “Who is accountable in @WorldRugby and pro clubs when their players are put back on the field after suffering concussion?! No one ?!? #sinbin.”
The CMRG, which was set up by England’s governing Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, which runs the domestic top-flight competition, made nine safety recommendations for new procedures to govern future incidents.
These were welcomed by the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) but it also felt an opportunity had been missed to send out a clear statement about player welfare.
“That George was permitted to return to the field of play in the circumstances was a significant failing,” the RPA said in a statement.
”While we feel that sanctions would have sent a clear message about the gravity of concussion mismanagement, we welcome the recommendations outlined in the report.
“These must be adopted and all concussion processes be kept under constant review so that everything is done in terms of training, resource and protocol to ensure this does not happen again.”
Peter McCabe, chief executive of brain injury charity Headway, said existing protocols may not be “fit for purpose”.
“The report states: ‘the group does not consider that the medical team (or the club) failed to complete the (head injury assessment) HIA protocol nor intentionally ignored the player’s best interests’,” said McCabe.
“If this is the case then serious questions have to be asked regarding the protocols: are they fit for purpose and are they being properly enforced?”
North, who has suffered several head injuries in his career, is back in training but will not now face Sale, as had been mooted by British media, on Friday.
Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Ken Ferris