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'No disrespect': Wales robustly defend selection of Tomas Francis

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Wales boss Wayne Pivac has insisted he has not made a grave error by including Tomas Francis in his starting team to take on France on Friday night, adding that he believes the current matchday concussion protocols are fit for purpose despite the controversy over the prop’s incident at Twickenham.

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Television footage from the Guinness Six Nations round three game showed Francis staggering following a clash of heads with teammate Owen Watkin and he also appeared to lean on the post pads for support. The 29-year-old was subsequently removed from the pitch for a head injury assessment that he passed and he returned to play until the 56th minute. 

The incident has since received much coverage in the aftermath of Wales’ 23-19 loss. John Fairclough, a leading surgeon who previously worked with the Welsh Rugby Union, claimed it would be “a grave mistake” if Wales selected Francis against France while concussion awareness group Progressive Rugby hit out at the protocols that allowed the prop to return to play following his HIA. 

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What happens inside the brain during a concussion | Beyond 80 Knocked
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What happens inside the brain during a concussion | Beyond 80 Knocked

While Wales named an XV to start against France that showed four changes from the game in England, including the absence of Nick Tompkins who suffered a concussion playing for Saracens last Saturday, the WRU was adamant that Francis and Josh Adams, another head-knocked player, were fine to start versus the French.

Francis and Adams have been managed clinically by Wales medical personnel in following all of the required return to play protocols, as specified in the World Rugby regulations,” read a WRU statement accompanying the team announcement. “Having suffered no adverse reactions and no complications in successfully completing each stage of the return to play protocols, both are available for selection.”

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Shortly after that publication, Pivac appeared at a virtually held media briefing at which he insisted his selection of Francis to play for Wales this weekend was the correct decision. “We have got a very, very experienced medical team as you well know and by getting the independent person in on top of that goes to show how serious we do take it and the player is part of this consultation process as well all the way through. 

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“Everyone is entitled to their opinion but what I will say is the experts that are dealing with it on the ground are dealing with this on a daily basis and they are experts in concussion.”

How has Francis reacted to being in the public glare regarding his health? “I don’t think any player enjoys being in the spotlight for these sorts of things,” added Pivac. “Generally speaking, I can only talk from what I have seen from Tomas in our environment and he is head down backside up working hard to be quite honest. 

“In his mind, he is good to go. He has followed all the processes that have been put in place and he trusts those processes and the people that put them in place.”

Asked to address the allegation made by Professor Fairclough that Wales are making a grave mistake in selecting Francis, Pivac replied: “No disrespect to the gentleman you are alluding to, we are going with the experts in concussion. I know he was a leading surgeon in another area of the body. 

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“Look, we are doing everything in our power that we can do and the decision has been taken. It’s not a light decision because we always say the player’s safety, health and well-being are at the forefront of all of these decisions and that is why we go to experts in this field to get their view and give them all the information possible.”

As regards the matchday protocols criticised by Progressive Rugby, the Wales boss added: “Look, there is a review looking at all of that. I didn’t see the incident live, I have only seen it post… but all that information will be part of the review.”

Asked if the matchday concussion regulation were fit for purpose, Pivac continued: “I think they are until they are changed because it is the thing we have all been working with for some time and leading experts are involved in putting those protocols in place. 

“Clearly, there are people that have responsibilities on matchday and there is a review looking into what happened and we will see what the findings are there but certainly, it is like anything in any sport if we can improve things that we do we will look to do so.”

Explaining the absence against France of Tompkins, the midfielder who was voted man of the match for Saracens against Leicester last Saturday, the coach said: “Nick Tompkins sustained a concussion in the game last weekend so we haven’t pushed him at all. He is going through the processes this week and we took him out of the selection process.”

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