Rugby players who get a knock to the head will be allowed off the field for five minutes' assessment in a new move to protect players of the country's favourite sport.
The Rugby Union is trialling the new safety rule after an IRB examination of World Cup games found players were examined by a medical professional for an average of 78 seconds. It will be introduced when this season's ITM Cup starts on August 23.
NZRU general manager professional rugby Neil Sorensen said the safety of rugby players at all levels of the game was critical. "The trial complements our compulsory coaching and refereeing safety programme, RugbySmart, which focuses on ensuring safe technique across the game."
RugbySmart was introduced in 2001 and has helped reduce serious spinal and brain injuries from an average of 10 a year to less than three.
The programme featured on the front of the British Medical Journal in 2007 and has since been picked up in a range of countries, including Australia and South Africa.
IRB chief medical officer Martin Raftery, who came to Auckland for the programme launch, said: "The safety and welfare of our players is of paramount importance. As a sport, we have been driving forward concussion management development and best-practice policy over the past decade, but we can always do more to protect our athletes."
The union has also teamed up with Auckland University of Technology for a ground-breaking study into the long-term health effects of rugby and other "collision" sports.
Researchers are hunting for 200 former All Blacks aged 35-55 to examine how playing injuries may have had lasting impact.
It is the first New Zealand study of its type and will compare ex-elite and ex-community rugby players with former players of non-contactsports.
Results are expected by November next year.
Meanwhile, the new concussion rules were tested in the Junior World Championships and the Junior World Rugby Trophy in Salt Lake City in June.
Under the new rule:
The recommendation to remove the player can be made by either the referee, the independent match day doctor or the team doctor from the player's team.
Once that command is made, the referee will indicate that the player is leaving the field of play with a hand signal.
Once the player has been removed from the field of play and temporarily replaced, the team and independent match doctors will proceed through an IRB pitch-side concussion assessment procedure incorporating standardised questions and observations.
If the player fails any aspect of the assessment and has relevant symptoms he will not be able to return to the field of play and the substitution becomes permanent.
Mr Sorensen said the trial would operate only at the professional level of the game where there were experienced doctors present.
"The professional game has the benefit of trained and experienced medical people on the sideline. At the community level our message to coaches, referees and players is very clear - if there are any signs of concussion then the player should be removed from the play immediately and not return to action."
Rule now: Players displaying symptoms of concussion are assessed on the field and either allowed to continue or taken off for the rest of the match and not replaced.
New rule: Players displaying symptoms will be taken off the field to be assessed for five minutes. Another player will substitute during that time.