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Concussion in Rugby
Concussion trial labelled "irresponsible"
ESPN Staff
September 22, 2013
Cases including that of Wallabies flanker George Smith have raised concerns about how concussion is treated in the game © Getty Images
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A leading American neurosurgeon has labelled the International Rugby Board's implementation of the Pitchside Suspected Concussion Assessment (PSCA) protocol as "irresponsible".

The sport's governing body introduced the PSCA last year as part of its bid to improve player welfare and recently extended the trial for another year - with some key changes - despite widespread concern that they were endangering those that play the game and reported links to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) - a degenerative disease found in individuals who have been subjected to multiple concussions.

The test sees players who have suffered a suspected concussion leave the field for five minutes while the doctors determine whether they are fit enough to return to the pitch by asking the player a series of questions. If the player is suspected of having concussion he is not allowed to return to the game. Previously medics were forced to assess suspected concussion on the field with only players with blood injuries allowed to leave the field of play.

The IRB have hailed the trial as a success citing a "25 per cent increase in players being permanently removed from the field of play following a head impact" while chief executive Brett Gosper is confident that the sport is "doing the right things, in the right way".

But Dr Bob Cantu, a co-director of the Boston University School of Medicine's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy and a key figure in the recent study of American footballers with similar injuries which last month led to a US$765million (£478m) compensation settlement by the National Football League, disagrees and believes the five-minute test is flawed.

"In such a brief period you can't do any adequate concussion assessment," he told the Mail on Sunday. "By not taking players out of the game, rugby is denying them access to proper medical care.

"You need to take them off the field at the first signs of suspected concussion and not put them back. It is that simple. By putting them back, the danger is you are exposing a brain that is in a parlous state to further damage."

IRB medical chiefs are adamant their efforts to deal with what is an emotional issue are in line with the latest Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport but Cantu believes that claim is unfounded.

"There is nothing in the 2012 Geneva Statement that supports the idea or implementation [of the PSCA]. It is irresponsible and the sport is storing up problems for itself," said Cantu, whose stance echoes that of former IRB medical advisor Dr Barry O'Driscoll who resigned his post last year in protest at the implementation of the PSCA trial.

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