The Offload: Is this the moment rugby finally eats itself?

Ian McKinley set for landmark moment; IRFU educates on concussion protocols

 Owen Farrell in action for Saracens in their Champions Cup match at Allianz Park, London, on October 20th. Photograph:   Steven Paston/PA Wire

Owen Farrell in action for Saracens in their Champions Cup match at Allianz Park, London, on October 20th. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA Wire

 

Enough is enough

Is this the moment rugby finally eats itself? The dinner table has certainly been set.

Recently, information leaked from Saracens that suggested the jaded body Owen Farrell, their prized possession, could be better managed.

Less being more was the clear message.

How about a 10-month club season (upped from nine) with a heap of summer Test matches thereafter?

Premier Rugby, the RFU and the RPA (a players’ representative body funded by the other two) really outdid themselves when framing plans for an extended season as a good idea – despite overwhelming player noises on the danger of increased exposure to rugby’s unrelenting brutality.

The small print led to a wave of negative media reaction with Sam Peters of the Independent best capturing the zeitgeist: “Dressed up as a player-welfare driven initiative but, in reality, yet another land grab aimed solely at reducing domestic and international fixture clashes, the announcement that next year’s Gallagher Premiership and all those thereafter will last 10 months will come to be seen as the moment rugby finally ate itself.

“How many more players do we need to hear state that their only way to get an extended rest is to suffer a serious injury?” Peters wrote. “The RPA has failed in its duty to protect its members by publicly endorsing a plan which will inevitably increase the risks of mental and physical fatigue across the professional game. Tuesday was a disastrous day for professional rugby players in England.”

Oh, and squeezing the Lions tour of South Africa into five weeks looks unworkable, dangerous even.

The IRFU guided reporters through the concussion protocols at the Aviva. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The IRFU guided reporters through the concussion protocols at the Aviva. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

Tackling concussion

The IRFU should be commended for putting up their sharpest medical minds – Dr Rod McLoughlin and Leinster doctor John Ryan – to guide reporters, step by step, through the concussion protocols at the Aviva Stadium last Friday morning.

“Some research that was done last year, we would argue the interpretation of it, that suggested if you have a concussion and you return to play there is a 60 per cent increased chance of then getting a subsequent injury over the next number of weeks,” said Dr McLoughlin.

Learnings: The average return-to-play timeframe for a concussed player is 11 days. During the Six Nations amateur Ireland international females can follow the five-day return-to-play protocols specifically designed for the professional game as the IRFU stated they would be under “a higher level of care”.

Research shows that people with learning disabilities have a prolonged recovery from brain injury. The stadium has an accident and emergency standard medical facility complete with radiology department. The head injury assessment is difficult – several journalists failed it – but the continued use of pre-season baseline testing means players should find it easier to pass the numbers and word memory tests. Women are more susceptible to concussion than men but “the interpretation of that is they are more honest”.

Internationals at the Aviva have two separate teams to review concussive blows – one pitch side, another in the medical room – with multi-screen, video access.

Ian McKinley is to set play international rugby against Ireland having qualified for Italy. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho
Ian McKinley is to set play international rugby against Ireland having qualified for Italy. Photograph: Craig Watson/Inpho

McKinley set for landmark moment

The Ireland outhalf used to be a rare species – Jackie Kyle, Ollie and Wardy, Humphs and Elwood, Rog and Sexton. Not anymore. Joey Carbery has become the heir apparent following some stylish displays in Munster red this season. Others are rising but some slipped through the net. The US Eagles AJ MacGinty is cruelly denied a homecoming in November by injury but Ian McKinley should feature for Italy at Soldier Field this Saturday.

McKinley’s story is equal parts harrowing, miraculous and redemptive. An excellent prospect from the same age grade as Jack McGrath, Conor Murray and Peter O’Mahony, he seemed destined to represent Ireland when Michael Cheika capped the Leinster teenager in 2009. However, the 28-year-old’s career stalled when a UCD team-mate’s stud accidentally burst his left eye ball in 2010.

Six months later he returned, with 70 per cent eye sight, to produce a man-of-the-match performance against Treviso at the RDS. However, 18 months after the accident, McKinley was forced to retire due to a detached retina and loss of sight in the same eye. Three years passed before newly invented protective goggles allowed him restart his career in Italy. Now, finally, the Dubliner is to set play international rugby against Ireland having qualified for Italy, providing Conor O’Shea launches him off the bench in Chicago.

The lesson from McKinley’s inspirational comeback is no career can be set in stone. Back in 2011 the path was straight and clear as McKinley and Ian Madigan duelled as Johnny Sexton understudies. Back then nobody saw Treviso and Bristol beside their names while Carbery was a Kiwi teenager playing scrumhalf in Athy.

Word of Mouth

“My father in his wisdom used to say graveyards are full of people who thought they were indispensable. The reality is the plan can’t be built around one person.” IRFU CEO Philip Browne when asked about Joe Schmidt extending his contract as Ireland coach post RWC 2019.

By the Numbers

€1 million – reported figure IRFU will receive for playing Italy at Soldier Field, Chicago.

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