By Gareth James
Wayne Pivac insists Wales are not making a “grave error” in picking Tomas Francis to play against France – despite the protests of many, including Alix Popham.
Progressive Rugby – the campaign group on head injuries – as well as Professor John Fairclough and former Wales international Popham have all voiced their dismay that Francis is starting the game on Friday night, despite the blow to the head which left him staggering around the field at Twickenham during the match against England 13 days ago.
But Pivac, the Wales head coach, has confirmed that Francis has passed each stage of World Rugby’s return-to-play head injury protocols and had also been seen by an independent concussion specialist – something which is not required under the rules.
“We have got a very, very experienced medical team who we think are world class. They are experts in their field,’ said Pivac. “The return-to-play protocols are quite clearly set by World Rugby.
“Those have been followed. We have gone the extra mile in terms of Tomas and got an independent concussion specialist involved.
I’m not a medical expert and nor would I ever pretend to be one but even though Tomas Francis has passed all the concussion/return-to-play protocols, I still can’t help but feel uneasy about his selection to face France on Friday night. #WALvFRA
— Jamie Phillips (@JNPhillips4) March 7, 2022
“He has the history of the player, he has had a look at the footage of the match, and he has also been taken through the protocols that have been followed.”
Fairclough – who worked with the WRU as a team doctor – declared that selecting Francis would be a “grave error” but Pivac dismissed that suggestion.
“No disrespect to the gentleman you’re alluding to, we’re going with experts in concussion,” added Pivac.
“I know he was a leading surgeon in another area of the body, I think. We’re doing everything in our power that we can do. The decision has not been taken lightly.”
Progressive Rugby responded publicly on Fairclough’s credentials by pointing out that although he is an orthopaedic surgeon, his expertise is not confined to one area.
They said: “Wayne Pivac dismisses Prof John Fairclough as a leading surgeon ‘in another area of the body’.
“Well, he is, but he was also responsible for management of head injuries both pitch side & inpatient & continues to be involved in Sports Medical research nationally & internationally.”
Risking Tomas Francis against France would be grave mistake
“As someone who has taken an oath to protect life, I can’t, in good conscience, fail to highlight I think him playing puts him at unnecessary risk of serious harm.”https://t.co/0VEVyTeQkC#SixNations https://t.co/l3MzK7SlvI pic.twitter.com/8Kaf1qlaxh
— Progressive Rugby (@ProgressiveRug) March 7, 2022
Progressive Rugby say Francis exhibited “criteria one” signs of concussion after he made a tackle against England at Twickenham and should not have been given the head injury assessment (HIA) that allowed him to resume the match.
Popham, who has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and is involved in a legal action against rugby’s governing bodies for their alleged failures in duty of care, has also been highly critical of the decision by the Wales management.
He told The i, “I just can’t understand that he [Francis] is playing.
“They are following the protocols but the protocols aren’t fit for purpose. It needs calling out and what is going on is shocking.
“I was watching the match live, at home on TV, and I noticed Tom fall out of the contact area and go to the floor.
“Then, on replays, you see him go to his knees and stumble and use the posts to stand up for a few seconds. He was clearly concussed.
“It seemed to be he was staying on and then he got called off for the HIA. But it was clearly a concussion and the laws are that he doesn’t go for an HIA.
Alix Popham spoke out about the Tom Francis concussion case. Popham articulates two issues: Francis playing on in the England match, and whether the protocols generally are fit for purpose. On the first one, Wales say there is an investigation ongoing. https://t.co/MP8KGq5kSD
— Hugh Godwin (@hughgodwin_) March 10, 2022
“It is amazing. The world’s eyes are on them, tenfold, now. Yes, it is possible to miss things, but there was a lot missed.
“They didn’t even have the correct periods of the HIA because Owen Watkin [the other Wales player in the same incident] was back on in nine minutes, when it should be 12.
“Rugby should be out of the window, it is about getting their brain back healthy first. With what I know now, and the experts I have spoken to, on average it takes 28 days for a brain to recover after concussion. A boxer getting knocked out isn’t allowed to train for 30 days.
“No current rugby player will know the numbers who have been diagnosed, who I’m speaking to, who are suicidal; the parents of a child who committed suicide after concussion. This is serious stuff.
“You cannot change the past: that has happened, deal with those consequences at a future date. But you can protect what is going on now.
“Err on the side of caution and look after girls, boys, men and women who are playing. You only get one brain.”