New Zealand v Ireland: Sexton case exposes HIA flaws, say safety campaigners

New Zealand v Ireland: Sexton case exposes HIA flaws, say safety campaigners

Sexton was passed fit to play in Saturday’s second Test earlier this week

The availability of Johnny Sexton for Ireland’s second Test against New Zealand demonstrates a failure in rugby’s head injury assessment (HIA) process, say safety campaigners.

Ireland captain Sexton failed an on-field HIA and was replaced in the first half of the opening Test last weekend.

However he passed subsequent stages of the process, leaving him available to play in Dunedin on Saturday.

“Regrettably the HIA is being exposed,” said lobby group Progressive Rugby.

“Elite players who fail an in-game HIA1 have, by definition, displayed cognitive dysfunction requiring their removal.

“In our view, this is sufficient evidence, regardless of subsequent testing, to exercise extreme caution for the good of both their short and long-term health.

“This caution must be further amplified in players with a history of brain injury, as evidence is they are at higher risk of sustaining further concussions and other injuries.”

Sexton’s head injury came just a day after World Rugby’s new laws on concussion came into effect, which will see the majority of players diagnosed with concussion face an increased minimum period of 12 days out of action.

The Ireland skipper passed his HIA 2 after being removed from the action last Saturday, before being declared fit on Tuesday following his third and final assessment.

Johnny Sexton clutches his head after colliding with Sam Cane in Auckland
Sexton was injured in a collision with All Blacks skipper Sam Cane during the first half in Auckland

Ireland began their tour of New Zealand with a game against the Maori All Blacks, during which prop Jeremy Loughman returned to the field after coming off for an HIA.

New Zealand Rugby admitted after the game that Loughman should not have been allowed to come back on despite being passed fit to continue by an independent match doctor.

“Last week the process again failed to diagnose a clear and obvious brain injury, while three days later we are told it has identified a phantom one,” Progressive Rugby continued.

“The fact is there remains no examination by any expert that can demonstrate a brain has healed and is not at risk of further damage. As such, 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.”

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