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ARU should lead way on concussion, says Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie. Photo: Getty Images

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie says the ARU should be "leading the way in what's right and wrong" on the controversial issue of concussion.

McKenzie welcomed the ARU's appointment of national concussion specialist Ryan Kohler who, among his other duties, is acting as the Wallabies' new dedicated match-day concussion doctor for the three-Test series against France.

McKenzie, who said he was "wonderfully naive" to the risks associated with rugby and other contact sports during his 51-Test career, said the ARU had reacted responsibly to a worldwide issue.

"Once you determine something is important, you have to make it important," McKenzie said.

"Those [International Rugby Board] parameters have been developed over a period of time and they haven't been universally accepted, but they will.

"There are all sorts of issues in play, like welfare and liability. Welfare should be the priority – you have to make sure people who play your sport, play it because they enjoy it ... but we're not in the business of making life difficult for people later on."

The appointment of Kohler coincided with the ARU increasing its in-game "head bin" protocol from five to 10 minutes, to meet IRB recommendations. It brings Australia into line with widely-accepted best practice on concussion.

It comes as the sport, internationally, lurches from disaster to disaster in the public eye.

In the past month, rugby has been rocked by damaging footage of Toulouse player Florian Fritz being urged back out to play after being knocked out; the forced retirement of two-time Super Rugby-winning captain Craig Clarke and, most recently, Shontayne Hape's shocking first-person account of pushing on through a career littered with serious head injuries.

The ARU has largely managed the issue well, apart from the universally criticised incident involving Test breakaway George Smith in the third Test against the British and Irish Lions last year.

Smith was knocked out within the first few minutes of the series decider and had to be helped off the field, but returned to play after somehow passing the head bin tests.

The incident prompted the IRB to revise its protocols and rule that a player could not return to the field of play under any circumstances if they lost consciousness.

More recently, the IRB commissioned research showing its pitch-side concussion assessment tool, known as PCSA or "head bin", had led to a drop in the number of players diagnosed with concussion after being allowed to play on.

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that before the head bin trial, 56 per cent of players assessed by doctors but left on the field were later found to have been concussed. That dropped to 13 per cent with the introduction of the head bin.

The IRB has since modified the protocol, beefing up the memory and balance tests and doubling the time available to medics to make a decision. 

McKenzie was a tighthead prop for Australia in the 1990s, when rugby was still an amateur sport.

"[Concussion] had no profile at all, it was a very amateur environment, we played for fun and travel," he said.

"There wasn't a lot of sport science in those days. Syndesmosis, shoulder reconstructions – they didn't exist, you just got out there and kept playing. My generation carry a bit more battle damage but we were wonderfully naive.

"Things move on and now there's a lot more games at a higher level. [The ARU and Wallabies] are in the business of inspiration, and part of inspiration is leading the way in what's right and wrong."

HuffPost Australia

Rugby World Cup 2015

Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
FJI 47vs URU 15 Report Stats
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 64vs USA 0 Report Stats
NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 47vs TGA 9 Report Stats
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 33vs SCO 36 Report Stats
AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
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Round 2
Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 24vs ARG 13 Stats
Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
NZL 34vs AUS 17 Stats
View All Fixtures
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
England 4 2 2 0 58 11
Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
View all
Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
France 4 3 1 0 57 14
Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
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