Independent pitchside doctors may be introduced in Champions Cup
EPCR director general Vincent Gaillard hoping new measures will be in place for knockout stages
EPCR director general Vincent Gaillard at the launch of the European Rugby Champions Cup and Challenge Cup at Dublin Convention Centre. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Vincent Gaillard, director general of the European Professional Club Rugby (EPCR), hopes to introduce independent doctors pitchside, armed with video footage, to identify concussive blows during the knock-out stages of this season’s Champions Cup.
Gaillard was speaking in the wake of recent Jamie Cudmore allegations about not being treated correctly for concussion while playing Champions Cup for ASM Clermont Auvergne.
“Whether it is in our remit or not it is in everyone’s remit,” said Gaillard. “We are taking it very seriously. We had protocols in place last season and we are currently forming a player welfare advisory group. We’ll have some of the chief medical officers from the Six Nations, from the clubs, from the leagues just to get it right. I’m not sure what that is yet but it would certainly mean better protocols.
“It will also probably mean more independent match day doctors with access to video.”
Cudmore, the veteran Canadian international, is taking legal action against Clermont after claiming he was allowed to continue playing in both the 2015 Champions Cup semi-final and final despite sustaining head traumas.
“We have engaged with Jamie Cudmore and it is currently an issue with his [former] club Clermont Auvergne but if there is anything we can do, maybe support his foundation to raise awareness about the issue, of course we will,” Gaillard continued.
“We are absolutely on the case with all our stakeholders. There will be some significant improvements in the near future.”
Does that mean independent doctors at all European games?
“I am hoping that for all the knock-out games that are directly under our control there will be independent match day doctors. It is not a decision yet but we have to look at what kind of video equipment they have access to, which is another issue, and look at what World Rugby want to do around the topic, and see what our clubs want to do.
“It is a somewhat complicated topic but, yes, we see ourselves as accountable as well as everybody else.”
Gaillard also confirmed the winner of the Challenge Cup will not qualify for next season’s Champions Cup. In fact, the Pro 12 representatives on the EPCR board have insisted, as is their right under current heads of agreement, that a four team playoff will take place at the end of this domestic season.
This means the eighth and ninth placed Pro 12 sides will travel to face the seventh placed sides in the French Top 14 and English Premiership.
The winners of these playoff semi-finals will face off in a final qualification game to become the 20th team that qualifies for the 2017/18 Champions Cup.
This playoff was not possible last season due to the condensed schedule caused by the 2015 World Cup.
“There is playoffs this season but it is not impossible, in a couple of seasons from now, that we will revert back to direct qualification [for the Challenge Cup winners],” Gaillard informed The Irish Times.
“The Pro 12 insisted on playoffs this season but the debate will continue, definitely.”
Philip Browne and Paul McNaughton are the two Irish representatives from the Pro 12 on the EPCR board.
While this does not impact on Irish provinces this season, it significantly reduces the relevance of Europe’s second tier competition.
Meanwhile, Pat Lam has confirmed that Connacht’s highly rated skills coach Dave Ellis will return to New Zealand in January to become part of Tana Umaga’s Auckland Blues coaching set up.
“When I first came over here I really wanted to drive the skills programme,” Lam said. “Dave has done a great job. At the end of last year him and his wife were leaving and I begged him to give me one more season.
“He relented but when the Blues went after him I said ‘Mate, that’s a great opportunity not only to take your family home but get back into a professional set-up in Super Rugby.’ So he has my blessing.
“He leaves after we play Munster on New Year’s Eve.”
This is a major blow for Connacht as backs coach Andre Bell also left Lam’s backroom team last summer.