Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rugby’s concussion discussion


logo post greenOnce again I must thank Sony Pictures for inviting me to their special screening during the week of the film “Concussion” starring Will Smith.   But perhaps the best way for me to show my appreciation would be for me to harp on it here on the site for a bit so here goes!

In this story based on actual events, Smith plays the part of Dr Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-American forensic pathologist who discovered a condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (or “CTE”) in retired American footballers while working for the coroner’s office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Basically the actor’s challenge was to show Dr Omalu to be every bit the hero that some of his other characters in films like Independence Day and I Am Legend were meant to be, and you’ll have to excuse the mixed US sporting metaphor when I say he totally “knocks it out of the park”.

Ultimately what helped Dr Omalu make the discovery was the fact that he had absolutely no interest whatsoever in the sport of American football.  Not that he hated it, mind you, rather he wasn’t brought up to appreciate its traditions and such.  Instead, his mind was only focused on what he could see through his microscope, and this evidence told him that many retired players were suffering from the effects of repeated blows to the head despite the wearing of a helmet.

His findings put him front and center against the fans (especially in a largely working class area like Pittsburgh where they almost literally worship their team the Steelers) and more importantly the organising body of the sport, the NFL, which is run by the owners of the 32 teams/franchises (who, as a character in the film points out, actually “own a whole day of the week”).

Obviously I have no wish to give you any “spoilers” - to find out how he got on against those people you’ll have to see the film for yourself (in Irish cinemas from Feb 12).  My focus here is to examine how the subject matter of the film can be understood and incorporated into the game of rugby.

A pathologist or indeed any kind of scientific “-ist” I most certainly am not.  But I am of a mind to appreciate the findings of scientists, especially when they have been widely supported and ratified by their peers.  In other words, from where I’m standing, the fact that CTE exists isn’t even up for debate - it’s merely a question of how we as lovers of sport react to it.

Where I can offer an reasonably informed opinion, however, is in the area of comparing the sports of American football and rugby, though in doing so I am going to have to choose my words very carefully.

Basically my overall point is that while I would not have any raw data to support it, my theory is that concussion-related incidents happen much less frequently in rugby than in the sport across the pond into which it evolved.  I really hope that theory is not misunderstood, however - because it is not my intention to convey that the matter is any less serious for us fact, in some ways, it makes it even more so.

The most fundamental difference between the two sports is what happens after the tackle.  In American football, once the player with the ball is deemed to be stopped, the “play” is over and they start all over again from that point on the field.  In rugby, however, the play does not necessarily end by any stretch. 


In the “league” code, there is a pause it’s true but only a brief one - the players on the field must stay in their positions and no substitutions can be made.  In union, once a tackle is made nobody stops and the play generally devolves into what is known as the “breakdown”.

Please accept my general definitions for the purpose of my argument - I am well aware that the sports have numerous exceptions. 

What I am trying to say here is that in American football, the player making the tackle has pretty much one thing on his mind - to halt the progress of the man with the ball.  And the man with the ball generally has one thing on his mind - to either evade or at least endure the hit enough to be able to sneak a few yards on the field after the contact.  So in any one game it can be assumed that multiple concussion-related incidents have taken place at different points and with so many breaks in the action, they’ll be easier to spot.

In rugby, particularly in the modern game at the highest level, a player cannot afford to merely think about stopping an opponent.  The play will generally carry on afterwards so you, the tackler, will have to be of a mind to getting up again and making the next tackle, or perhaps try to poach the ball, or at very least make yourself available to your team in their attempt to keep out the opposition.

While rugby does involve some direct head on head collisions, what we need to look out for more often than not is incidental contact after tackles.  And the term “incidental” should not trivialise the matter in any way.  Sometimes it’s a player heading to ground finding a stray knee of someone not involved in the tackle on the way down.  In Johnny Sexton’s case against Wasps recently, he was trying to assist his team mate in a tackle only to find Brendan Macken’s head colliding into his own.

Such permutations are almost limitless in rugby, yet because the play more often than not carries on, and also because such dangerous contact happens much less frequently, they can be missed.  Also into the equation we have the fact that sometimes the player will know he has been hit and won’t want to be taken from the field, while at others they won’t even realise it has happened. 

Then we have the question of what to do when concussion is suspected.  As well as Johnny Sexton there have been high-profile incident involving other test players like Luke Marshall and George North.  What the governing bodies have come up with is a set of procedures known as the “Head Injury Assessment Protocols”.  

Overall, I am in favour of this method, but despite having no medical experience I would wager that these protocols are ones that need to be constantly monitored and re-evaluated where necessary.  In fact those with just the right amount of medical experience like Dr Barry O’Driscoll have repeatedly make similar claims.

The details of the wording and such I will leave to the legal and medical boffins...but as far as I am concerned the principle philosophy driving the creation of the protocols must be that player welfare is paramount.  It doesn’t matter what the occasion is, it doesn’t matter how “legendary” the player is considered to be - if concussion is suspected, he or she must no longer take part until properly cleared to do so. 

There is one change, albeit a very small one, to the status quo I reckon can be made.  How about we stop calling it a “scrum cap” and instead re-brand it something like a “rugby cap”?  More and more backs are wearing them now and if they offer any kind of protection to players then maybe, just maybe, more can be persuaded to wear them if the name isn’t so position-specific.

But that is of course a minor point.  The major one is that everyone involved in the game, from those on the board of national rugby unions to those on the touchline at junior 4ths matches on muddy pitches at the weekend, makes themselves aware of what can happen and more importantly, what they can do about it once it does. 

Watching this film should go a long way towards demonstrating the folly of choosing to ignore the dangers of concussion.  Here’s hoping the generations to come will know those dangers every bit as much as they know the Laws of the Game.  Let’s be sure to keep the discussion going in the meantime.  JLP


For more on how the matter relates to the Irish game in particular I strongly recommend you read this article by VIncent Hogan in the Irish Independent just over a year ago.   Hard to believe it has been 5 years since the Ben Robinson tragedy.  RIP

Other related links of interest-


The Autopsy That Changed Football


The IRFU Guide to Concussion


Does OJ Simpson have degenerative brain disease CTE?

Where are we now? Post Europe/Pre 6 Nations

by Emma McGarry

Emma McGarry

I may have to evaluate Leinster v Dragons at a later point as this piece was nearly finished before we kicked off. *Sigh* (Bravo Jeff for being able to keep up with Leinster’s antics every week.)


We’ve established how totally unacceptable the result v Wasps was for a team with quite the CV when it comes to Europe. It left Leinster supporters reasonably ticked off that “our boys” seemed to give up in the second half. Perhaps their minds had already turned to the Pro12 before we had even kicked off. Even so, this standard will not be tolerated no matter what the circumstances, we're better than that. There is never nothing to play for. We have more pride than that and I thought that was evident against Bath the weekend previous. However, the difference between the two fixtures? The starting XV. Leo struck the right blend of youth and experience against Bath. Garry Ringrose, Ross Molony and MOTM Josh van der Flier have well and truly made themselves known to the supporters (and have caught the eye of Schmidt while doing so). Yet still Cullen returned to a team of “off-form OAPs” to face Wasps. Little explanation was offered as to why so we may wonder all we like.

The departure of Johnny Sexton less than 10 minutes in was incredibly concerning given his history of head injuries. After passing his HIAs, Sexton has been declared fit in for Ireland’s opener against Wales on 7th February but again questions have arose around the issue of concussion. There has been heightened awareness of this issue after the early retirement of Kevin McLaughlin in September of last year. George Hook commented during the week that Sexton should consider early retirement, an accomplished young man with a young family, has it gotten to the point where perhaps it would be best? How would Ireland fare without him? I think we’d survive, Paddy Jackson has come on leaps and bounds since his last injury and is the only decent out half available to us as things stand. While it would be sad to see him go, you have to wonder is anything worth the long term effects of head injuries? Schmidt seems to think little of it...

Martin Moore confirmed this week that he will in fact leave Leinster at the end of this season and Wasps are welcome to him. Unfortunately for him, a tear in his hamstring has ruled him out of the 6 Nations. Doubts surrounding Mike Ross’ ability in his “old age” have cropped up again. I think he's a great mentor for the young lads like Tadhg Furlong (who is much less injury prone than Moore) and our talented academy players.

6 Nations

Joe Schmidt is looking down the barrel of the most difficult 6 Nations campaign thus far in his career. Although you could argue if we’ve learned anything from the World Cup, it's that big names do not equal big results. I reckon it's time we brought it back to basics. 2014 tournament, Schmidt called a number of baby faces into his squad and brought us success that same year. Iain Henderson turned out to be a brilliant discovery.

Supporters have been calling for Garry Ringrose to be given a chance at international level this year, myself and BOD included, but Schmidt has taken a cautious approach  saying he’s too young and it could knock his confidence. I see his point but I stand by what I’ve been saying. Even having Ringrose in camp around higher calibre players would benefit the 21-year-old immensely. He’s fresh, he’s exciting, he’s exactly what we need.

Many of our internationals will be (and should be) constantly looking over their shoulders during this tournament. The tiresome Stander v Heaslip debate comes to mind, and another somewhat popular opinion? Jared Payne should given the opportunity to play at fullback. We’ve seen his natural aptitude for this position so why not let him at it? He’s been miles ahead of Rob Kearney for the past two seasons. Plenty of the “elder lemons” could do with the pressure for jerseys, underperforming cannot be tolerated if we want continued success and development.

It has been announced Ulster’s Rory Best will captain Ireland, a good choice. He’s by no means one of my favourites but I can see the appeal, he demands respect and has the ability to rally his team. Sure what more could you ask?

The latest

Schmidt has named 5 uncapped players in his squad. The squad’s newcomers:

Versatile, 24 year old Connacht prop Finlay Bealham has been called up to replace the injured Moore.

CJ Stander (Munster),

Stuart McCloskey (Ulster),

Ultan Dillane (Ulster),

Josh van der Flier (Leinster).

Second hat tip of the day goes to CJ Stander who has enlisted the help of teammate Donnacha Ryan to learn Amhrán na bhFiann since being called into Ireland camp. Could he be any more likeable?

Robbie Henshaw suffered no ill-effects from his return for Connacht and has been released from Ireland camp to play for the province against Scarlets.

(P.S. Please excuse the extended absences, balancing exams and writing has become a fine art.)

Emma McGarry (@EmmaKMcGarry) - Hugely interested in all aspects of rugby. Supporter of Irish and Leinster Rugby. "Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad" - Brian O'Driscoll


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Front Five – 31.01.16

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
As one reader on twitter remarked
we did well to find as many as 80 words!

It was an absorbing game on a heavy pitch, where the touchline on the Clan Terrace side of the ground was a bog.
Brendan Fanning - Irish Independent

A lazy, unrecognisable Ulster left itself in the changing room at the end of the first 40 minutes, to become a true compelling force
Andrea Gardina - Irish Times

I joked that it could be like the game in Bosnia where no one saw the goal being scored by Walters in that other “foreign” sport!
Gayl -WestTerraceView

Briggs senses a different energy about the squad, born of the sport’s growing status in Ireland
Michael Aylwin - The Observer

I know he's playing Payne at 13 so it doesn't really matter what the country thinks.
PJ Browne -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Zebre 12-16 Munster (8-0-review)

My first look at Zebre this season, and in some ways I can see why they are the higher-ranked of the two Italian Pro12 outfits, but in other ways I can see why they’re ranked second-to-last overall. Plenty of aggression on show from both sides, but very little skill - Munster will be disappointed not to have capitalised on an early Chisholm try but still just about kept ahead. Leinster must target 9+ points from the two February meetings with Zebre.
Fancy penning an 8-0-review for HarpinOnRugby?  
Let us know at

Front Five - 30.01.16

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
Disappointing result in Newport
but hey at least it makes the Welsh
like the Pro12 if only for a day! ;-)

Leinster conceded 13 points in the 20 minutes they had 14 men on the field. That statistic tells its own story.
Gareth Griffiths - WalesOnline

If it proves to be serious, it would be the latest in a long line of crushing blows for the luckless 28-year-old
Ruairidh O'Connor - Irish Independent will not come as a massive surprise when Gatland is handed the job, despite Stuart Lancaster seemingly being in contention.
Alan Drumm

“I think we’re well looked after here, and then off the pitch the set up we have, if we’re talking internationally, it’s brilliant."
John O'Sullivan - Irish Times

It must be one of the great releases for pent-up rugby players - gloving up and boxing the snouts off each other.
Patrick McCarry -

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Friday, January 29, 2016

Preview : NG Dragons v Leinster


logo post blueWith its official launch during the week the Six Nations is creeping into the rugby world’s psyche more with each passing day but I’ll leave all harpin on that until Round 13 of the Guinness Pro12 has been and gone.

And it’s a lucky round 13 for fans of the provinces, with all four having their matches featured live on TV.  Zebre v Munster is on TG4 from 2pm tomorrow while Sky’s feature match is rightly the 4th v 1st clash of Connacht and Scarlets from 3pm while Ulster host Treviso from 5pm on both BBC2NI and TG4. (Check this link for our regular Thursday post showing all upcoming rugby on d’telly)

But first up is Leinster’s visit to the Dragons tonight, so let’s crack on. 

Michael Cheika during his RDS tenure began a tradition of sorts surrounding this visit to Newport, which always seemed to fall the week before Heineken Cup matches - for example in 2009 it preceded the final while in 2010 it was before a back-to-back series with the Scarlets.  The tradition involved sending over a young inexperienced team with the understanding that defeat wasn’t the worst outcome.  And guess what, in both 2009 AND 2010 the outcome was in fact defeat.

So in some ways, this 2016 Leinster lineup which is bound for Rodney Parade very much resembles those of yore, but as far as I’m concerned there is an important distinction.  Maybe defeat wouldn’t be an absolute disaster for us given our strong position on the Pro12 table, but defeat resulting from a poor performance certainly wouldn’t augur too well for the upcoming series of fixtures during the Six Nations.

But don’t let that scare you...I’m confident tonight’s “Cullen’s Cubs 2.0” lineup can show us they’re ready for the step up from the British & Irish Cup side. 

They have certainly been getting the job done in that competition with a perfect 6 wins out of 6 - ok, maybe it was against sides in the lower half of the RFU Championship but having seen at least the home matches, none of them exactly saw the visitors surrendering...the victories had to be worked for.

With Isa out injured and Heaslip, Sexton and Ruddock occupied elsewhere, Leo Cullen has taken a very brave step in nominating young Luke McGrath as skipper tonight, a tremendous honour for him. 

He has led out the A side on occasion and no doubt he will “wear the armband” with pride.  For me this is an indication that he is very much part of the long-term plans of the province...there were rumours an import might be signed for the 9 position with Reddan & Boss not getting any younger (assuming we’re allowed what with Pienaar at Ulster) but this suggests otherwise, and he certainly has the talent to make the jersey his own.

Outside him at 10 is Cathal Marsh.  I went against the youngster pretty heavily in my writeup of the Wasps game and some appear to have misunderstood.  While replacements always have to be ready to come on at any stage of the game, it was unfortunate for him to have to bear the brunt of our attacking gameplan at such an early stage against such a well-coached and determined opposition.

In this case, he has gone the whole week knowing he is to start and I am very glad to see him getting more time in the role as he certainly has the talent to do well.  And this time around, he seems to have a better set up around him.  The Te’o/Ringrose centre axis is exactly what I wanted there and Kirchner, McFadden and another promising youngster Adam Byrne give him several back three options as well.

Up front it is great to see the name of Hayden Triggs back in the lineup; his return is most certainly timely.  He strikes me as someone who will be well up for a scrap and we all know the Dragons crowd can be particularly raucous so we’ll need players who can feed off of that kind of atmosphere.

And it’s not as though the youngsters in the Leinster squad are unfamiliar with rowdy Welsh fans.  In our squad for tonight Adam Byrne, Marsh, McGrath, Dooley, Tracy, Molony, Leavy, Loughman and Timmins were there for the A side’s trickier matches in recent seasons, like at Pontypridd or at Carmarthen Quins.

What of the Dragons?  Well I remember a time when Tiger Woods was in his golfing heyday and the bookies would offer odds for major tournaments “with or without Tiger”.  A similar approach could be made to Newport when analysing matches - “with or without Toby”, though despite being without him on this occasion, the spread is calling for a 5-point Leinster defeat.

Oh yeah?  Well that’s exactly what they predicted when we put out a young side against Bath and look how that turned out

I may be looking more for a performance (particularly on D) than a result tonight and a losing bonus point wouldn't be a tragedy once the lads play well together, but for my prediction I’m going to say we’ll sneak it by 1-3 points, with the BBC Wales commentary team no doubt seething with anger over a refereeing call that will probably involve Ben Te’o.

Just a suggestion...why not get on social media and give the boys in blue your full support ahead of tonight’s match.  There’s a Pro12 title to be won, you know, and we’re well in the hunt.  JLP

#COYBIB #CullensCubs #FromTheGroundUp

NG Dragons : Carl Meyer, Ashton Hewitt, Adam Hughes, Adam Warren, Hallam Amos, Jason Tovey, Sarel Pretorius; Boris Stankovich, Thomas Rhys Thomas (c), Brok Harris, Rynard Landman, Matthew Screech, Nick Crosswell, Nic Cudd, Lewis Evans.

Replacements: Elliot Dee, Phil Price, Shaun Knight, Cory Hill, James Benjamin, Charlie Davies, Geraint Rhys Jones, Nick Scott

Guinness Pro12 2015/16 Round 13

At Rodney Parade, 7.05pm. Live on BBC WALES/TG4

Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 46th competition game)

Assistant Referees: Craig Evans, Sean Brickell (both WRU)

Citing Commissioner: Dennis Jones (WRU)

Front Five - 29.01.16

Start your day with five eye-catching egg-chasing quotes & links from around the ruggersphere.
The whole “Lancaster leading the Lions” thing
made me roll my eyes at first
but you know what, there’s a decent case to be made for it
Still though, I think it should be Gatland or Schmidt
If the concept is to be taken seriously
Our Dragons v Leinster preview will post later this morning

"I'd have pretty good banter with Drico at any given time so it's not something that is a distraction" – Joe Schmidt
Ruaidhri O'Connor - Irish Independent

Dragons Director of Rugby Lyn Jones, has made four changes to the team that faced Sale Sharks

"Last weekend showed that Wales will be strong and very competitive this year. And it doesn’t get any easier after that with England and then France in Perpignan." - Tom Tierney
John Birch - ScrumQueens

...we cannot even consider starting the matches a month later, to give the sport a chance of establishing a global season from March to November that might transform its profile?
Oliver Brown - Telegraph

"He [Lancaster] has a lot of the credentials you could potentially look for in a Lions coach" - Lions CEO John Feehan

Feel free to share any interesting links you spot yourself about t’internet by email, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blog comment or carrier pigeon – whatever works for you. JLP
Note - views expressed in "Front Five" links do not necessarily reflect those of HarpinOnRugby

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rugby on TV : Jan 28-Feb 4

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Times generally refer to beginning of broadcast not kickoff
Check local listings for repeat showings
Feel free to let us know if something is missing!


Taken by JLP from RDS press box on Nov 16, 2019