The IRFU has warned parents, coaches and players of their responsibility to be extra vigilant for signs of concussion among amateur rugby players.
Concussion has generated considerably more attention in the professional game where the players are bigger and faster, but the problem was highlighted at grassroots level in tragic circumstances two years ago.
Fourteen-year-old Ben Robinson died two days after a schools match in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim, having suffered what was subsequently termed as “second impact syndrome” after being involved in several heavy tackles and collapsing near the game’s end.
“We are trying to educate people,” said Dr Rod McLoughlin, the IRFU’s head of medical services. “The diagnosis of concussion is the most complex in sport-related medicine because it is a hugely traumatic brain injury that causes a temporary impairment of brain function. That can be as vague as a player staring and looking lost to a loss of consciousness.”
Though awareness of its potential consequences has increased in recent years, opinions differ among sports medicine experts as to how best to minimise its impact.
There have been a handful of high-profile cases at the elite level of the game where those seemingly obviously concussed have returned to play, which only highlights how difficult it is to assess players in the lower levels. “I am not expecting parents to diagnose concussion,” said Dr McLoughlin.
“I’m expecting everybody within the game to watch out for signs of concern that somebody may have a concussion and then you just sit somebody out and seek medical advice.”
The union has launched a guide to educate those playing, supporting or officiating at games on how to recognise symptoms, warning returning to the field of play could be fatal.
Twenty-four qualified instructors are already in situ around the country to educate stakeholders in the game, 400 of which have undergone the programme to date, and these numbers are expected to grow.
The IRFU has also imposed a longer return-to- play rest period on players aged 20 or under who are confirmed concussion cases.
IRFU plan for 2014
The IRFU are confident the world governing body’s Pitchside Concussion Assessment (PSCA) protocol will be in place for next season’s Six Nations. The PSCA is currently being used on a trial basis by the International Rugby Board (IRB) although the majority of major tournaments have embraced the five-minute pitchside spot check.
The Six Nations has yet to do so, however, and the same goes for the Rabo PRO12 and the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups.
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