Six Nations reviewing a number of HIA incidents from Paris game
Incidents involving Matthieu Jalibert and Antoine Dupont under spotlight
French replacement Antoine Dupont is led off the field after being injured during the Six Nations match against Ireland at Stade de France. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
Another Six Nations match in Paris, another breathtaking finish. And another game overshadowed by controversy regarding head injury assessment protocol. In March last year France snatched a dramatic victory against Wales under suspicion of the most cynical abuse of the HIA system; this time they succumbed to Ireland. To describe Johnny Sexton’s 45-metre drop goal through the insistent rain as dramatic would be to do it a disservice.
Once again, though, questions were asked of the manner in which France benefited from a curious application of HIA protocol. A review of two incidents is to be launched by Six Nations Rugby Limited (SNRL). “Depending on their findings,” a statement read, “SNRL will be considering the next steps in respect of those incidents.”
It appears there is less conspiracy about this one but the needlessness of the cock-up begs questions. The match doctor, astonishingly, was French, so the public thirst for conspiracy may yet linger but the doctor was independent and free from any influence by the France camp.
When Antoine Dupont, France’s replacement scrumhalf, went down in the 76th minute it was clear he had hurt his right knee. When Nigel Owens stopped the game he tapped his head to signal a suspected head injury. That appears to be the source of the confusion. Later, Owens could be heard pedalling back on that assessment and then, when the French medics tending to the player confirmed that the injury was to Dupont’s leg, Owens became embroiled in discussions with the fourth official and Sexton, confirming the diagnosis of the match doctor, who was never present on the field, that Dupont was going off for an HIA.
In this case it was significant because the HIA meant France could bring Maxime Machenaud back on for the final minutes, rather than negotiate them without a specialist scrumhalf. That could have proved telling, for France won a penalty at the scrum that restarted proceedings and Machenaud’s prowess as a kicker is formidable. A further three points there and Ireland would need the try they had never looked like scoring.
However, the kick was given to Anthony Belleau, the 21-year-old outhalf who had assumed kicking duties when Machenaud had been replaced earlier. He pulled the penalty wide, setting up the remarkable scenes at the end.
Belleau had been on since the half-hour, when he replaced his even younger colleague, Matthieu Jalibert, making his debut aged 19. Cruelly, Jalibert’s match was cut short when he, too, hurt a knee in collision with Bundee Aki’s. Again, the verdict from the match doctor was HIA.
Unlike last year, France can be absolved from suspicion because in both cases their medics in attendance could be heard confirming the obvious – that the players were suffering from leg injuries. Jalibert’s head also collided with Aki’s hip, so that HIA call was plausible, but in neither case was the match doctor on the field or able to talk to Owens directly, a situation that will surely be investigated in the review.