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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 March, 2019

Fritz fiasco a stark reminder that rugby needs ongoing concern around head injuries

The French international was knocked out against Racing Métro but returned to play 14 minutes later.

Fritz leaves the pitch in a clearly dazed fashion.
Fritz leaves the pitch in a clearly dazed fashion.

“I HAD A small KO. I don’t remember everything. It was better to leave a fresh guy like Gaël Fickou [take my place].”

The words of Florian Fritz when he was interview by Canal+ at the start of the second half of Toulouse’s barrages encounter with Racing Métro in the Top 14 last night.

Thankfully, the French international centre had been permanently withdrawn at that stage, having incomprehensibly re-entered the game for the closing six minutes of the first half, despite the sickening clash with Racing lock François van der Merwe’s knee in the 19th minute of the game.

With a large wound opening in Fritz’s head due to the collision, the Toulouse man exited the pitch in a blood substitution, but alarmingly re-emerged 14 minutes later to take his place in midfield again – the cut on his head now stapled and stitched closed.

To many of those watching the game live, it appeared obvious that Fritz should never have been allowed back onto the pitch. While it is certainly dangerous to make medical assessments from the couch when watching games, the player’s own admission of losing consciousness affirms those initial feelings.

Source: ChuckyRMC/YouTube

What was perhaps more alarming was the apparent manner in which Toulouse coach Guy Novès pressured Fritz and the medical staff attending to him into hurrying the player back into action before the 15-minute blood sub allowance had expired.

Having only selected two backs on his replacements bench for this fixture, it seemed that Novès was keen not to lose a starting centre so early in the game. Whether the experienced coach has Fritz’s health in mind is questionable.

The concussion protocols for the Top 14 read: “In cases of suspected concussion, the concerned player may temporarily leave [the pitch] for 5 minutes for an assessment of their neurological condition.”

Those same protocols detail that only two parties may decide whether a concussion test is required; the referee and the doctor of the player’s team.

Last night’s referee Jérôme Garcès did not demand that a concussion test be carried out on Fritz when he was leaving the field. In the match official’s defence, the sheer amount of blood on the centre’s head and face may have distracted from the matter, but any head injury of that nature should be treated with the utmost precaution.

It is impossible to know for certain whether or not Toulouse’s medical team carried out a concussion test of their own accord without being able to ask them directly, but we would have to presume that was not the case.

To those watching on, the entire situation seemed a farce that ignored common sense and failed to take into account the seriousness of possible concussion. With the player himself since having admitted to being knocked-out, the incident was nothing short of a disgrace.

Similar incidents involving Paul Derbyshire when Italy played Ireland in the 2014 Six Nations, or George Smith while competing against the Lions for Australia in 2013 immediately sprung to mind, making it clear that this entire area remains a major issue in rugby.

There is no need for hysteria in addressing the issue, but it is alarming that Fritz was allowed back on to the pitch last night. In a professional sport, having your best players on the pitch is important, but not at the risk of their long-term health.

The top levels of rugby set the tone for all others, and the sight of Fritz being applauded back onto the pitch as a warrior was a worrying one. While there was obviously some bravery involved in his actions, he should never have been allowed to show that trait.

It has to be hoped that the IRB, LNR and Toulouse rugby club itself have taken the incident with utmost seriousness and will continue to work towards making non-existent.

Fortunately Fritz did not sustain another knock to the head after re-entering the game for those six minutes before half time, but we cannot rely on luck in these circumstances any longer.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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