The IRB, FFR, LNR & Stade Toulousain should have issued a joint statement by now admitting that Florian Fritz’ return to the field was wrong.
“Never mind 5, 10, 15 minutes fanciful assessments - you come off, and you stay off.”
“It’s worth having a zero tolerance approach to it and staying out of that game [where you have been concussed]. It’s only a game at the end of the day.”
I am not a former medical advisor to the IRB who resigned in protest on account of the regulations regarding concussion being insufficient.
Nor am I a former Heineken Cup winning hooker who has suffered many a blow to the head in his career and has since come out strongly on the subject of concussion while openly acknowledging that he and many of his fellow professionals were known to do all they could to disguise it at the time.
When it comes to rugby commentary, I am merely a blogger and in many ways my only contribution to the topic can be taking the name of the player at the centre of the latest controversy and trying to make a fitting pun for my headline.
But I also wear another hat relevant to this issue…I’m a parent.
That Toulouse v Racing Métro match may have been a quarterfinal or “barrage” as the French call it but having watched all 80 minutes of it (as well as the Clérmont v Castres contest the following day) it had an intensity to rival any test match let alone Heineken Cup one.
In fact, if you’re looking for something to prove these two matches were distinct from “ordinary” Top 14 clashes, you need look no further than the fact that the away side won both times.
To add to this importance, you have what has been a dismal season for Toulouse by their standards. So when Guy Novès, European rugby’s answer to Sir Alex Ferguson in many ways, wants to know if Fritz can return because he chose to go for a 6/2 forwards/backs split on his bench, there won’t be many who are willing to stand in his way.
But as George Hook often says, let’s “back up the truck” for a moment.
When it comes to player safety, it shouldn’t matter what the situation is, if it’s Under 10s, Junior 4ths, Top 14 or a World Cup final.
Nor should it matter who the personalities are, whether it’s Florian Fritz, Novès and yes, even Brian O’Driscoll. BOD is a legend and now may be the time to be remembering all the amazing things he has done over the years, but this topic is too serious to overlook the fact that more than once during his career he played on after a knock when perhaps he shouldn’t have.
The fact remains that legislation needs to be proactive rather than retroactive and I’m beginning to wonder just how serious the consequences have to be before the appropriate action is taken by the lawmakers.
And if I’m watching a big match like Toulouse v Racing with my son, I want to be able to say to him “Ah look at the replay of that! Fritz took van der Merwe’s knee full to the head and can hardly find his way off the pitch! He won’t be back on, it’s for his own good.”, with a strong degree of certainty that I’ll be right.
To see Fritz then return to the field of play before the half was over creates an impression for everyone watching that things like this can be overcome.
Never mind the blows to the head that aren’t picked up by the cameras. Never mind the concussion symptoms which aren’t as obvious to the untrained eye yet every bit as dangerous.
Bernard Jackman says the French players’ union are considering strike action if the league doesn’t appoint an independent medical advisor to Top14 & ProD2 matches - someone with the power to over-rule not only the player but anyone involved in either club.
That is all well and good, but this is an issue too serious to be dealt with merely by one national union or competition. Reading reports saying things like “The IRB and a sports concussion expert respond with alarm over the Florian Fritz fiasco and actions of Toulouse boss, Guy Novès” doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.
The experts are saying that the “concussion bin” is not enough and that “zero tolerance” is the only option, so the game at large should be listening.
All I’m saying is that in my humble opinion, someone needs to get the IRB and all the national unions and bash their heads together to sort this out once and for all for every level of the sport. [Yeah, I know, another woeful pun…sorry, it’s what I do]
Heaven forbid my son ever finds himself in a situation similar to Florian Fritz, but if he does, he should have the protection of the rugby family at large. I don’t even know why we need to be discussing it. JLP