Planet Rugby

IRB, expert concern over Fritz KO

12th May 2014 17:25

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Guy Noves Toulouse boss 2012

Under fire: Guy Novès

The IRB and a sports concussion expert respond with alarm over the Florian Fritz fiasco and actions of Toulouse boss, Guy Novès.

The centre was led dazed and bleeding from the head after he collided with the knee of Racing Métro second-row, Francois van der Merwe in Friday's Top 14 playoff. Despite clearly being in no state to continue, Fritz returned to play under pressure from Novès, sparking outrage across the rugby world.

Novès was later quoted on French site RugbyRama as saying: "I have been knocked out, played on and was fine; as you can see, I am still standing here," despite the widespread condemnation, including criticism from incredulous LNR and FFR doctors, while a Toulouse medic remarked that this was "not a matter for the press".

On Monday, an IRB spokesman told Planet Rugby the game's governing body were "incredibly concerned" by the events that led to Fritz's return to play, and had lodged a request with the FFR to investigate the incident.

Stressing that the recently-implemented concussion protocols are very clear, the spokesman expressed his disappointment that they had apparently been flouted so flagrantly at Stade Ernest Wallon, risking the immediate welfare of the France star.

The timescale of the FFR investigation, or the potential for Novès and/or members of the Toulouse staff to face sanctions or even dismissal is not yet clear.

Nor is it known whether Independent Matchday Doctors, who often rule on head injuries at Test level, will be brought into the Top 14 or PRO D2 as demanded by Provale, the French player's union. The IRB say they have no direct jurisdiction over the Top 14, and will trust, at this time, in the verdict of the FFR.

"We have requested that the FFR investigates the incident," said the spokesman.

"Player welfare is the number one priority for the IRB and the protocols for concussion management are very clear and well communicated. Any player displaying any clear symptoms of concussion must be removed from the field of play permanently."

Meanwhile, leading neuroscientist Dr Alan Pearce, of Melbourne's Deakin University, conveyed his alarm over the Fritz farce earlier on Monday, warning of the dangers concussed players face should they make an untimely return to play.

Pearce has conducted groundbreaking research into the long-term effects of sports concussion on the brain; in the past year, his work has revealed several ex-Australian Football League (AFL) and rugby league stars are suffering from brain abnormalities, unable to recall their children's names or where they left their car keys, shocking the Australian sporting fraternity.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought I'd gone back in time and was watching this incident take place twenty years ago," Pearce told Planet Rugby.

"What I found more concerning, however, was that Guy Novès was having some involvement in the assessment of Fritz's injury. The medical staff should be allowed to do their jobs fully independent from any coaching staff."

"We have good scientific evidence that once the brain experiences trauma, such as a concussion, there is a cascade of events that occurs in the brain," added Pearce.

"These include the release of excessive chemicals into the brain region that can inhibit function, changes in blood flow and also impairment of nerve impulses. These contribute to changes in behaviour, such as confusion, agitation, loss of balance and being unsteady, disorientated or dazed.

"This is what we call post-concussion vulnerability. The player's brain is functionally abnormally putting the person at risk of further injury. So if a player is sent back onto the field of play, while the brain is still not functioning properly, their chances of getting a second concussion is much increased.

"Even though a player's behaviour may apparently return to normal, we have done research that shows changes in brain function can remain impaired for up to ten days. This supports the work of other labs around the world, some of whom are showing these changes can last up to six months.

"So this shows how serious concussion can be, but it also shows how difficult it is to evaluate a concussion in five minutes by the field of play."

The neuroscientist also backed Provale's calls for the use of independent physicians on a broader basis.

"I feel for medical professionals who are beholden to the club through employment but also need to take into account player welfare," admitted Pearce.

"This is a why an independent doctor is so important; they can make decisions without any consequence to their position and free from that "pressure-cooker" environment.

"I was very disappointed by the way Novès acted. I am sure coaches would not like to be told how to do their job, and therefore should respect the medical professionals to do theirs."

By Jamie Lyall

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