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'He needs to make sure that he’s 100%. Not just for the short-term' - Gatland

The Lions head coach says rugby is secondary to Northampton wing George North’s health.

WARREN GATLAND SAYS he “absolutely” understands the widespread concerns surrounding George North returning to the field of play after passing a Head Injury Assessment during Northampton’s clash with Leicester on Sunday.

Wales wing North, who played a key role in the 2013 Lions tour, took a heavy knock after being tackled in the air by Adam Thompstone in last weekend’s Premiership fixture, lying completely motionless immediately after the incident.

Northampton Saints v Harlequins - Aviva Premiership - Franklin's Gardens North was injured last weekend [file photo]. Source: David Davies

It appeared that the wing, who has a history of concussion, lost consciousness briefly but he reappeared on the pitch five minutes later, with Northampton stating that North had passed a HIA.

However, Northampton yesterday released a statement revealing that North has been stood down until an independent assessment of his head injury takes place. The powerful wing is now expected to miss Friday night’s Champions Cup clash with Leinster.

“As at every Premiership match, the Saints’ medical team has access to video footage to be used to assist the pitch side assessment of injuries,” said the Northampton statement.

“It is important to note this video footage is not always the full range of replay angles available to the TV viewing audience at home.

“If evidence suggesting a loss of consciousness had been available to the medical team at the time of assessment, George would not have been allowed to return to the field of play.”

There has been widespread and justifiable outcry at the fact that North played on on Sunday, and Lions head coach Gatland – who was in Ireland to announce his assistant coaches – said he found some aspects of the incident odd.

“A couple of things I find a bit strange at the moment is, one, he passed the HIA, so that’s a little bit confusing,” said Gatland.

“And I’m not sure how conclusive the video evidence is as well, because we’ve seen where he’s done that before. He’s looked like he’s taken a knock, he’s gone down and he’s stayed still momentarily just to make sure everything is ok before he moves.

“I’ve just seen the clip and heard that he’s been stood down at the moment and I think if that’s for safety reasons, just to make sure that he’s right, I think it’s the best possible scenario at the moment; just to make sure that there isn’t any risk to his health.

George North falls to the ground injured following a collision with Mike Brown North has a history of suffering head injuries. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Apart from the game, that’s the most important thing long-term: his health and making sure he’s right. We’ve made comments before. Definitely he needs to put himself first, and his long-term health, to make sure he’s fit.

“But I think there’s a little bit of confusion over the process he went through.”

North took an extended break from rugby last year after suffering a worrying series of four concussions in five months.

The 24-year-old has since spoken about how he considered quitting the game altogether after that horrific bout of head injuries, meaning that the angered reaction over last weekend’s incident has been widespread.

Gatland can understand that.

“I wasn’t involved so it’s difficult for me to comment on that,” said Gatland. “In terms of Northampton and the process that they went through, they said they didn’t see the clip.

“He’s passed a HIA test so from a coaching point of view, you just assume that the process is being followed.

“I understand, absolutely. It’s concerning. He’s had a few knocks in the past and you just want to make sure that they go through the right process that if he does play again that he is fully fit and he is recovered.

“If he does pick up knocks in the future, that needs to be dealt with and he needs to potentially consider what is the best process for him to go through.

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“I know he has been stepped down in the past for a lengthy amount of time and if he needs to do that again, then that is something that people better qualified than me need to potentially consider.”

George North lifts up Israel Folau North was impressive on the 2013 Lions tour. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Asked if North could go on to star for the Lions next summer, Gatland stressed again that the Welshman’s health is paramount.

“If he’s fit and playing well, obviously,” said Gatland. “There are a lot of other good players around. I can promise you that there will be no pressure from me in terms of him getting on the field quickly.

“Like I said, his health is the important thing and he needs to make sure that he’s 100%. Not just for the short term but for the long term as well.

“There is obviously quite a bit of evidence to show that there are potentially long-term effects for people who have taken a number of knocks in contact sports. He needs to consider that and talk to his specialist about that to make sure he’s 100% right.

“Rugby is secondary. His health is the most important thing and there definitely won’t be any pressure from us to get back on the rugby field.”

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