World Rugby have once again condemned Northampton's handling of the head injury George North suffered against Leicester last month but have stopped short of applying any sanction in its review of the incident.
It is the second time that Northampton have escaped punishment after a joint Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby investigation found that the Wales wing should not have returned to the field of play after appearing to lose consciousness in an aerial collision with Adam Thompstone. World Rugby subsequently launched its own investigation over the apparent non compliance with its concussion protocols. Any player suspected of losing consciousness should be removed immediately without being subjected to the Head Injury Assessment that North, who has a long history of head injuries, passed.
It found that the mistake occurred because North complained of a neck injury which led to "prioritisation by the medical staff given to evaluating a potential spinal injury to North." In a statement, World Rugby said: "While it is impossible to completely remove the risk of error, World Rugby remains disappointed that there was a failure in this case to identify and manage the injury appropriately, in particular considering North's medical history."
Despite initially expressing dissatisfaction with the outcome of the initial, World Rugby has now said that the RFU and Premiership Rugby "acted swiftly and appropriately to implement measures with Northampton Saints and other clubs to reduce the probability of future non-compliance."
Indeed it is hard to detect what World Rugby's review has added. No individual has been held responsible for the decision to return a potentially brain injured player to the field. Instead the emphasis has been placed on following protocols - in particular that any player showing a symptom of a suspected concussion should be removed without undergoing an HIA - and further education, which was very much the thrust of the RFU and Premiership Rugby review. World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "While we acknowledge that errors in the correct application of the process may happen from time to time, we must continue to strive to make our game as safe as possible for players at all levels of the game. The head injury management process, including the HIA, is successfully protecting players and what this case shows is that all stakeholders must redouble their efforts to ensure they are implemented fully and correctly.
"I'd like to thank our colleagues at the RFU for their full cooperation in this matter and for conducting a thorough review. World Rugby will continue to work closely with all unions to ensure an environment of compliance in this important area."