The Times Online, February 11, 2015. Link (paywall): http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/rugbyunion/article4350948.ece
Jonny Wilkinson waded into the debate over concussion in rugby by questioning the effect that the blows he suffered to the head in his career might have on his life in retirement.
In the wake of the controversy over Wales’s handling of George North last Friday night, the former England fly half also said that players need clear guidance from medical staff on whether they are fit to play after a head injury.
Wilkinson, who won 91 caps and the 2003 World Cup, suffered more than his fair share of injuries with his unflinching approach to defending, and he now admits his playing style put him at risk.
“During your career you think, ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’ But I look back at some of the decisions I made and I wonder about them,” he told the Daily Telegraph.
“This is serious now. This is my life. I’ve got another 50 years of it, I hope. I look back and I think that I could have been throwing all that away, just because I wanted to play another 20 minutes in one game, showing the guys that I was up for it and proving to myself that I could do it. I’ve watched guys take hits, and I’ve taken a few myself where I have been completely out of it.”
Wilkinson’s comments comes after Wales admitted they were wrong for allowing George North to return to the field in their RBS Six Nations Championship opener against England despite suffering blows to the head on two separate occasions.
World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, agreed that North should not have been allowed to return to the field but did not punish Wales after accepting the team’s explanation that they did not see the second incident.
Wilkinson said that medical staff sometimes had their “hands tied” by club pressures, potentially compromising their judgement on whether a player should continue.
Recalling a collision against Exeter last season while playing for Toulon, Wilkinson said: “It rattled my head so much, my brain must have moved. I went to walk off and I felt as if I was going over my toes. I was stumbling around, seeing stars.
“I needed someone to tell me, clearly, if I was playing or not. Who is qualified to make that decision? You tend to know your own body the best. But sometimes, the person looking after you has his or her hands tied by the club, by the pressures of promotion or relegation. No wonder it is a tough area. No wonder no one can find the answer.”
Prav Mathema, the national medical manager for Wales, said that had he seen the incident, when North collided with Richard Hibbard, his team-mate, the 22-year-old would have been withdrawn immediately.
North missed Wales’ final autumn international against South Africa because of concussion and this has been given as a reason for his omission against Scotland on Sunday.
Announcing this morning that North would not play at Murrayfield, the Welsh Rugby Union said: “North is currently symptom free and whilst nearing the conclusion of the graduated return to play protocol the decision has been taken to allow him an elongated recovery period in light of his recent concussive episode in the autumn period.”