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Johnny Sexton's 'phantom' concussion causes confusion

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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Jonny Sexton’s selection for Ireland for the second Test in Dunedin following an apparent head knock in the first Test against New Zealand last Saturday has raised questions around World Rugby’s new protocols.

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Many assumed that Sexton would be unable to play under new World Rugby protocols which require a player who was concussed to spend at least 12 days out of the game.

The Ireland flyhalf slipped into a tackle and his head connected with the arm of All Blacks‘ back row Sam Cane. Sexton could be seen clutching his head after the incident and was duly sent for a Head Injury Assessment.

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Despite failing a HIA 1 and not returning to the field, Sexton passed a HIA 2 three hours later, before passing a HIA 3 72 hours on the from the initial incident.

As such he is adjudged not to have suffered a concussion.

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has now selected his talisman for the 2nd Test and it’s not gone unnoticed by those championing player safety.

Progressive Rugby released a statement this morning: “Elite players who fail an in-game HIA1 have, by definition, displayed cognitive dysfunction requiring their removal. In three days later we are told it has identified a phantom one (Sexton).

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“The fact is there remains no examination by any expert that can demonstrate a brain has healed and is not at risk of further damage. As such, if player welfare is truly the game’s number one priority, the only option must be to err on the side of caution – otherwise the new elite protocols are failing in their key purpose.”

Rugby writer Peter Jackson caught the mood, writing: “Johnny Sexton, withdrawn half an hour into last week’s Test after a head blow, failed his Head Injury Assessment. Ireland have passed him fit for an immediate return. How can that be when World Rugby’s new rule requires a 12-day stand down following a concussion? More confusion.”

The decision comes just a week after Ireland prop Jeremy Loughman’s concussion was missed during the Maori All Blacks game. The loosehead returned to the field despite being clearly wobbly on his feat following a collision.

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