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Dublin: 16 °C Monday 22 April, 2019

'Stupidly, sometimes as players we can try to hide that'-- Keith Earls on concussion

The winger is back in flying form having come through the RTPs after his latest concussion.

LAST SATURDAY KEITH Earls did what most Irish rugby fans did. He sat on his couch to watch Ireland v France.

He probably wasn’t alone in having the distraction of two children scampering around the place – Ella May and Laurie made sure that some of the game’s nuances didn’t catch his eye on replay. Given some of the brutality on offer during the first half of the ultimately narrow defeat, Earls can’t have been the only one happy to be sitting out either.

It’s not that he doesn’t relish the physical side of the game as much as any top tier rugby player. Simply because, having met with more experts than he would have ideally liked to, he knows how how severe the ramifications of rushing back into the firing line too soon after a concussion can be.

Keith Earls Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I trained on Thursday (before the France game) and didn’t feel great after training,” said the wing after he came through a full training session in Mullingar eight days later.

Earls was never really in the frame for the team announcement that was made on the same Thursday. After he struggled to shift himself from a second half ruck against Wales, Ireland’s medics and coaches wasted little time in labelling Earls as a concussion and began to plan without him.

I suppose stupidly, sometimes as players we can try to hide that. But in fairness to Joe he made a call. Going home in the car on the Thursday I wasn’t feeling good, so thankfully I didn’t play.

“Six-day turnaround as well, it would’ve been hard to recover. In fairness, Joe looks after the player more than he’d worry about a game. He looked after my welfare and you can’t argue with that.”

From high in the Aviva Stadium stand, it can take time to register when a player is down hurt, or simply waiting for their leg to be freed from the weight of some tight five forward. But by the time the ruck on Ireland’s left wing was down to two, it was clear that Earls wasn’t right.

When chatting with The42, the 28-year-old is sitting in Mullingar RFC’s function room and still wearing shorts from a tough training session. Yet he knows his mind on this subject – and a murky subject it is, with more strands, symptoms and consequences than meet the eye – asked how concussion manifested in him personally, Earls says:

“No sickness, just maybe slow – slower than usual. The girls at home think I’m fairly slow anyway,” he says with a knowing smile.

“It didn’t look like much when I went back on the video. At the time I felt I got a swinging boot or knee. Tadhg Furlong was cleaning out Jamie Roberts and and Tadhg’s elbow just caught me straight on the temple.”

Keith Earls injured Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With scheduled days off on the following Monday and Wednesday, last week was made up of assessments and light aerobic exercise before the Limerick man kitted up on the Thursday for non-contact training.

That session was a setback, even if it was not immediately obvious.

“I passed with flying colours (on Thursday), but it was nearly a delayed symptom I had going home in the car.”

A weekend off and more rest have put Earls on a much steadier footing. Yet having been through the process again, Earls does feel that the discourse around concussion can sometimes be too swift to judgement. It’s entirely understandable why professional athletes, particularly those with young families, would rather the landscape in rugby was less worrying.

The right protocol was taken and I’m running around now happy and I feel great.

“There is a lot of chat about it (concussion), but people do have to be careful as well. There’s a lot of different parts… fair enough, if you’re knocked out you’re probably concussed. But fellas can get up dizzy – there’s all different patterns in your brain.

“If you get up and wobble around the place it doesn’t mean you’re concussed, there’s a lot to do with your ear and balance. And in a game you can be rattled a bit as well.

“Obviously we have to highlight head injuries as well, but we have to be careful not to scare people too much.

Keith Earls sits out training today Last Tuesday, Earls keeps warm while his international team-mated prepared for France. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“There might a couple of parents who are a bit worried leaving their kids out on a field. Within every team from under eight to senior level, there has to be someone who understands concussion and people (must) understand that if a player gets concussed they have to come off. If they get that second blow, it can be fatal.

Source: The42 Six Nations Show/SoundCloud

“Between knock-outs and dizziness, people need to do a small bit more research, because not every bang in the head or bang in the shoulder is concussion.

“There’s a lot more there between your ears when you research deeper.”

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Sean Farrell

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