Ashley Smith: Ex-Dragons centre says rugby concussion rules need changing

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith made 129 appearances for Newport Gwent Dragons

Ex-Newport Gwent Dragons centre Ashley Smith, who retired in 2015 after a series of concussive events, says the game can manage concussions better.

Smith, 29, says Northampton Saints' handling of George North's head injury shows current rules need to be changed.

"I think the authorities need to change the head injury assessment (HIA) and concussion protocols that are in place at the moment," he said.

"I feel sorry for Northampton. I don't think they've done anything wrong."

The Saints are awaiting the outcome of a concussion panel review into the North incident, which happened in their 19-11 defeat by Leicester Tigers on 3 November.

TV replays showed the Wales and British and Irish Lions Test player lying motionless after a heavy fall, but he returned to play after passing a pitch-side assessment.

North has since been sidelined indefinitely after the club said they did not have access to all the TV footage and would not have allowed him to return if they had.

George North
George North suffered the head injury in the 16th minute of Northampton Saints' defeat by Leicester Tigers

The 24-year-old did not play for six months in 2015 after suffering a series of blows to the head during matches, including a serious concussion when scoring a try for Northampton against Wasps in March 2015.

The Concussion Management Review Group (CMRG) comprises RFU's director of professional rugby Nigel Melville, Phil Winstanley, Premiership Rugby's rugby director and an independent chairman, Dr Julian Morris.

They are expected to announce their findings this week and could decide to issue a warning or even recommend a misconduct charge against the club or an individual.

Smith told BBC Radio Wales he felt the club had done nothing wrong in their handling of the incident at the time.

"The physios and the doctors have rushed on to George, and they've followed the correct procedures that are in place within World Rugby at the moment," he said.

"Until they change I can't see how they - Northampton - can be brought up for doing anything wrong."

Under current rules doctors have 10 minutes to assess if a player can return to the field after a head injury and any player with confirmed or suspected concussion will be permanently removed.

Changing the rules

Former International Rugby Board [now World Rugby] medical committee member Dr Barry O'Driscoll believes the HIA is not fit for purpose.

"The regulation for rugby worldwide is that if you are suspected of concussion then you're off the field and you stay off, but they make a separate ruling for the elite game," he told BBC Radio Wales.

"In the elite game they take you off for 10 minutes and they give you a test and if you pass the test then that proves you're not concussed.

"And this just is not true and I think they've got to stop it. If you suspect to the extent that you have to take someone off - for so-called specialised testing - that player mustn't go back."

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