Woods: ‘Head bins’ a no brainer

NIALL WOODS of the Irish Rugby Union Players Association has called for players suffering head injuries in rugby games to be sent to ‘brain bins’ for their own protection.

Woods, the outgoing chief executive of IRUPA, cited recent international games in support of his proposal, which is aimed at protecting professional rugby players from concussion and other brain injuries.

“During November I was watching England-South Africa and (England’s) Chris Ashton was clearly out of it,” said Woods. “I found myself shouting at the television — I was worrying I was turning into my Dad already — to get him off. It was clear to the referee and the medics, I thought, that he was out of it, but obviously there was pressure coming from somewhere to see if he could stay on the pitch.

“There have been moves to get a ‘head bin’ or a ‘brain bin’, as opposed to a blood substitution, established for players who suffer head injuries. Otherwise it will come to a stage where someone is going to suffer an extremely serious injury.

“With a ‘head bin’ you could get a player assessed by an independent medic off the field as to whether he was fit enough to continue.”

Woods acknowledged that there was a possibility that such a rule could be abused, as happened in the ‘Bloodgate’ episode during the Harlequins-Leinster Heineken Cup game, which led to the suspension of ‘Quins coach Dean Richards and others.

“There might be a fear that a ‘head bin’ would be abused, but even abuse in 10% of cases as opposed to one hundred per cent would be something. Then you have the severe bans handed down in the ‘Bloodgate’ controversy, which would make it less likely to have abuse of a ‘head bin’, though you couldn’t rule it out.”

Woods pointed out that brain injury does not necessarily show up immediately.

“It’s not just the damage that players are doing currently. We’re pushing the International Rugby Board to start researching what’s happening to players when they’re 40, 50 and 55, something that should have been started years ago.

“In a survey we did ourselves we discovered that 40% of former professionals had stopped playing before they planned to, predominantly through injury. Of those, 72% are in regular pain or discomfort.

“I think the only way a player will listen to what’s likely to happen to him down the line — particularly with concussion, because there are no visible signs of injury if you don’t have pain — is if someone says, ‘this is what has happened to a former player or boxer or American football player — this is the damage you’re doing’.

“Coaches must also be educated. Some are very good but some aren’t as good on player welfare, and if a medic is employed by a club then the question is asked, ‘how independent can they be for a player?’ It’s not an ideal scenario and has to be adjusted. The primary care of the player has to be at the centre of this. If it isn’t, then not only will there be a tragedy, there could be legal repercussions for a particular union and for the game in a particular country, and you don’t want that. You want to be seen to be doing as much as possible to stop that.

Woods, who steps down from his role with IRUPA at the end of the month to start his own sports marketing and management agency, added that players themselves should not be the ones deciding if they were fit to play.

“There’s an element of the players being at fault as well, but the decision (to play) has to be taken away from the players.

“You must have medics who won’t be influenced by coaches and who will make a decision based on the player’s welfare.”

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