No sanction for Northampton sets poor precedent

Date published: December 23 2016

Despite new directives and a thorough investigation, it feels like rugby has faced a crossroads on concussion and set off down the wrong path.

George North will not play on Friday against Sale and in an affair that has been consistently met with raised eyebrows this is the most sensible decision yet.

Northampton have not been sanctioned despite their player returning to the field having suffered a concussion. That incident happened in the 17th minute after a mid-air collision with Leicester’s Adam Thompstone. And North went on to play the full 80 minutes.

Were this any player then there should be outrage. The game on the verge of 2017 is unrecognisable from a decade ago with the current focus on player safety and concussion, designed to prevent incidents such as these from occuring.

But North is a special case, a player who has now suffered four concussions before his 25th birthday, the third of which caused him to take a break from the sport for months.

Concussion for any player should be met with caution. Any slight suggestion of one for North, given the effects multiple blows to the head can have and his history, deserves to be met with paranoia.

This is not an attack on Northampton’s medical staff. Mistakes happen, even potentially alarming ones as in this case. Neither their integrity and professionalism are being questioned.

There is a difference however between accepting human error, and avoiding punishment entirely. Ask the players who attend modern rugby’s multiple disciplinary hearings per week.

Concussions however cannot afford to be missed, either generally or absolutely in the case of players like North. And for that reason Northampton Saints should have been fined. Setting a precedent in the process.

North’s concussion at Leicester felt alarmingly obvious to all those with or without a medical background who saw it.

It was a gut-check moment. One where you trust your eyes first. He was out cold. And on he played, with Northampton’s original defence suggesting that there was a lack of video footage.

At a time when strong messages are being sent through suspensions for various offences, and with the introduction of new ‘reckless’ and ‘accidental’ tackle laws from January 3, the lack of a punishment here feels out of place.

The message it sends is hard to stomach, and not off-set by the introduction of those nine new directives.

Should another team find themselves in this position in the future they will point to Northampton missing a concussion, yet the lack of any sanction, as how they should be treated.

A murky situation when a firm hand was required. None of it sits well.

by Ben Coles