Ireland coach Andy Farrell has strongly defended Johnny Sexton’s selection for Saturday’s second Test against New Zealand despite the head knock which forced him off in last weekend’s game.
Sexton failed an initial head injury assessment but has been cleared to play after passing two subsequent tests.
“The process was passed and he’s fit to play. It wasn’t concussion and we move on with the rules,” said Farrell.
New Zealand’s Sam Whitelock will miss Saturday’s game because of concussion.
Sexton was not demonstrably struggling after colliding with All Blacks captain Sam Cane, and Farrell rejected any suggestion his playmaker would be at risk in his 107th Test.
“The only thing that matters here is Johnny,” he said. “We always, as medics and coaching staff alike, err on the side of caution first and foremost.”
The selection of Ireland’s veteran captain Sexton for the Dunedin game – when Ireland will attempt to keep the series alive after losing 42-19 last weekend – has drawn criticism from lobby group Progressive Rugby, whose members include medical professionals.
“Elite players who fail an in-game HIA have, by definition, displayed cognitive dysfunction requiring their removal,” read a Progressive Rugby statement.
“The fact is there remains no examination by any expert that can demonstrate a brain has healed and is not at risk.
“If player welfare is truly the game’s number one priority, the only option must be to err on the side of caution – otherwise the new elite protocols are failing in their key purpose.”
Protocols ‘crystal clear’
All Blacks coach Ian Foster said Whitelock’s welfare took priority and was left wondering why Ireland would consider picking Sexton, a pivotal player for the tourists.
“What I do know from our perspective is the protocols are crystal clear,” Foster said.
“If it looks like you’ve taken a knock and you fail an HIA, you go to a 12-day programme (break).”
A World Rugby statement on the Sexton issue on Friday said that “any player who displays clear signs of concussion during a match such as loss of consciousness, loss of balance and dazed etc, should be permanently removed from play and must not return to play before 12 days.”