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France receive slap on the wrist for controversial prop swap against Wales

France failed to comply with HIA protocol but there was evidence to suggest they intended to gain a competitive advantage.

Uini Atonio was replaced during the closing stages of the dramatic Six Nations game.
Uini Atonio was replaced during the closing stages of the dramatic Six Nations game.

AN INCIDENT REVIEW group has found that France did not comply with Head Injury Assessment (HIA) protocols during the closing stages of their dramatic Six Nations victory over Wales in March.

The independently appointed group investigated the circumstances surrounding the replacement of France prop Uini Atonio and concluded that while there was no clear evidence of cheating, the home team failed to follow the appropriate procedure.

Six Nations Rugby has issued a letter of reprimand to the French Rugby Federation.

Guy Noves’ side scored a late try to snatch a 20-18 victory at the Stade de France after referee Wayne Barnes had played 20 minutes of added-on time at the end of the game.

With France 18-13 behind and camped on the Welsh line, Atonio was replaced by preferred tighthead Rabah Slimani, known for his devastating scrummaging power, as the hosts pushed for a late try.

France coach Noves insisted it was a genuine call by his medics under HIA procedure, which would leave Barnes with no choice but to allow France to bring back the previously substituted Slimani.

But Wales interim coach Rob Howley said at the time there was “evidence to suggest that the integrity of the game has been brought into disrepute” by France fabricating the head injury call.

In a statement released this afternoon, Six Nations Rugby said there was no ‘clear evidence’ to suggest France intended to gain a competitive advantage by making the change.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

“The UIRG group, independently appointed by Professor Lorne Crerar conducted a substantial and thorough review of the incident analysing all available match day video footage and interviewed all stakeholders related with the incident,” it read.

“The UIRG concluded that the FFR had not complied with HIA protocol and/or the relevant laws of the game, and to this effect a letter of reprimand has been issued by Six Nations Rugby.

“In accordance with the UIRG’s report Six Nations Rugby has considered the appropriate next steps and has concluded the following;

  • Following detailed review of the available evidence it was established that once the HIA protocol had been initiated and the player had entered the medical room, the FFR conducted the process appropriately although there was some miscommunication from the French team.
  • There was no clear evidence that there was any intent to obtain a competitive advantage in the match with regards to the FFR’s failures in complying with the HIA protocol and/or laws of the game .

“Six Nations Rugby will continue to establish player welfare at the fore of its priorities and is unreserved in the development of all strategies supporting it.”

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Ryan Bailey

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