On 21 June 2022, World Rugby announced a significant change to the protocols surrounding concussion management. The new regulations, which came into effect on 1 July, state that any player diagnosed with a concussion must stand down for 12 days. This regulation impacts all elite-level Rugby Union players and represents a significant five-day extension to the previous stand-down period.
This decision followed a review of new scientific evidence, which was examined by an independent group, and brings the concussion guidelines for Rugby Union in line with Rugby League. Speaking about the decision, Alan Gilpin, chief executive for World Rugby, said “the key is for us to keep advancing with the science” and that “the sport is doing its best to protect and look after players’ safety and welfare.”
Previous rules stated that any player who failed a head injury assessment (HIA) could return to the game after seven days, providing return-to-play protocols were followed. This meant that players could potentially feature in the next match, something the new rules are to change.
While individuals can be exempt from the 12-day stand-down under certain circumstances, the increased extension period could result in in players spending longer on the side lines – which could then have a significant impact on clubs, performances and results as we head toward the new season, and in particular the Rugby World Cup in 2023.
What it means for players
World Rugby clarified the new protocols:
“The evolved approach will see players with a history of concussion or who are removed from a match with obvious concussion symptoms, sit out from play for a minimum of 12 days, likely missing their next competitive match.
“No player will return earlier than the seventh day after injury, and any player’s return will need to be approved by an independent concussion consultant.”
Dr Eanna Falvey, chief medical officer for World Rugby, added:
“World Rugby firmly believes that scientific evidence supports our protocols, but we are continually monitoring and testing them to ensure that they are fit for the modern game.
“We recognise that there are differences in concussion symptoms and concussion history, and this process enables us to further protect elite players by individualising their rehabilitation.
“It also keeps in place all the benefits of the previous protocols, which have been so successful in beginning to tackle under-reporting of symptoms which evidence shows that, while improving, remains an issue.”
Assistance for referees
World Rugby has also created a HIA Protocol document that outlines the new 12-day stand-down period. The document was designed for referees and staff involved in elite adult teams and provides information on identification, diagnosis and management, in accordance with the updated regulations.
While no one knows for sure how much of an impact this will all have, what’s certain is that new circumstances will prove to be a big talking point in the coming months as more games are played with the new ruling.