Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Sides use heads and hearts on concussion issue

Kieran Read failed a sideline concussion test after copping a swinging arm to the jaw late in the first half against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read failed a sideline concussion test after copping a swinging arm to the jaw late in the first half against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

The significance of Kieran Read leaving the field after 30 minutes on Saturday night was easy to understand in the context of the match between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

Not so easy to appreciate was the significance of his departure in a much wider context - that of the game's ongoing battle to improve management and appreciation of the seriousness of head knocks.

The epic encounter in Hamilton was as much a victory for the sideline concussion test as it was for the Crusaders. As much as it showcased the bravery, commitment and passion of the respective players, it also highlighted the compassion and morality of the respective coaching teams.

Actions haven't always supported words when it comes to the management of players with head knocks, but on Saturday both coaching teams made decisions that illustrated their conviction there are no shades of grey when it comes to concussion.

Read took a swinging arm to the jaw late in the first half. He was clearly dazed yet reluctant to come off.

He was in the process of setting himself up as the game's central figure and as the acknowledged best player in the world, the Crusaders had a desperate need to keep him out there.

But the medics hauled him to the sideline and put him through the concussion test. His short-term fate was most likely sealed before he failed it, though. Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had previously shown his reluctance to take risks with his skipper - scratching him from the contest against the Lions amid concerns Read hadn't fully recovered from a minor head knock.

However much the Crusaders needed their captain in Hamilton, Blackadder wasn't going to be swayed from his belief that welfare is more important than winning.

"He's not too bad," he said of Read. "He failed the sideline concussion test but talking to him now he's pretty bright and breezy which is a good sign. "We don't know the seriousness of it all just yet but we will take every precaution to make sure he is fit and healthy believe me. We do those things really well."

The Chiefs were equally definitive about their player protection policies. Liam Squire was the victim of a Dominic Bird no arms tackle and when the Chiefs No 8 tried and failed to get to his feet, there was no way the Chiefs were going to let him carry on, regardless of what the concussion testing said.

Tawera Kerr-Barlow passed a concussion test shortly before halftime but Chiefs coach Dave Rennie didn't like the idea of his halfback playing on after taking a head knock so Augustine Pulu was given the second 40 minutes.

Rugby doesn't have a legacy of such bold and player-centric decision-making.

Hamilton was a breakthrough night for the Crusaders. But more important than that, it was a breakthrough night for an issue that matters more than any league table.

- NZ Herald

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