Sun 4 Feb 2018 | 10:25

Law discussion: A knee injury, or a head injury?

Law discussion: A knee injury, or a head injury?
Sun 4 Feb 2018 | 10:25
Law discussion: A knee injury, or a head injury?

We'll look at a bit of history and then try to say it clearly with a quotation from the Laws as contained in the new version.


Laws get made in two ways – to improve on what exists and to counter dishonesty. The laws that introduced replacements for injured players in rugby football were well meant.

The first suggestion to the International Rugby Board of replacing injured players came from New Zealand in 1924. It was turned down, as it was in 1932, 1947, 1952 and 1967.

It was regarded as the manly thing to accept adversities in rugby as in life and get on with it. The option for an injured player was to go off, leaving his team a man short, or bravely soldier on regardless of the pain.

But in 1966, when England played France, David Perry, an English loose forward, was injured and heroically played on. In so doing he exacerbated the injury to his knee to such an extent that it ended his playing career. That was his 15th and last cap for England whose captain he had been.

This became a cause célèbre.

The change came in 1968, a grudging change restricted to international matches and to two replacements for an injury that a medical practitioner certified was so severe that the injured player would not be able to play on in the match. Gradually the scope of the law widened to include all rugby.


Then 1995 temporary replacement was allowed for a bleeding player. This was at a time when it was feared that contaminated blood could cause problems for others.

In 1996, tactical substitutions came to be allowed.

In 2015, the head injury assessment (HIA) was introduced into rugby, as concussion became an increasing concern.

In brief, an injured player may be replaced and may not return to the match.

A bleeding player is allowed 15 minutes to stop the bleeding. Beyond 15 minutes, the replacement becomes permanent.

A player submits to an HIA test is allowed 15 minutes for the test. Beyond 15 minutes, the replacement becomes permanent.


Substituted players are allowed back in a limited number of cases:

When a substituted front row player is unable to continue playing, the substituted player may return.

When a player goes off for bleeding, a substituted player may come back onto the field.

During an HIA test, a substituted player may come back onto the field.

Let's look at a timeline for the France-Ireland incident

29 minutes: Mathieu Jalibert (10) of France tackles Bundee Aki of Ireland. Jalibert says down. The referee stops play so that there is no danger to Jalibert and so that he can be attended to. The medics arrive and attend to his knee. There is a suggestion that Jalibert may require an HIA. He limps of grimacing in pain.

66 minutes: Antoine Dupont comes on as a substitute for Maxime Machenaud, France's scrumhalf. Machenaud is not injured. It is a tactical substitution.

75 minutes: From a scrum, Antoine attempts a break but Conor Murray of Ireland tackles him. Dupont goes down in pain. The referee stops play for his sake. The medics are quickly on. The referee taps his head, the gesture suggesting an HIA is necessary. The referee says: "He said it could be an HIA." The medics are intent on dealing with Dupont's knee while the referee is in close attendance.

The two medics help Dupont, clearly with a knee injury, off the field and down the tunnel.

The referee beckons the match official (called the Fourth Official, who regulates the coming and going of players during a match) in a smart tracksuit with the World Rugby badge and the word REFEREE under it.

The referee asks the Fourth Official if Dupont was going off for an HIA. He wants to know definitely if this is the case and if it is the decision of the match doctor. The French match official tells the referee that it is the decision of the match doctor, who is not a member of the French management but is viewing it on a screen and is in contact with the medics and the Fourth Official.

Why is the referee requiring these guarantees?

If Dupont is going off because of an injured knee, Machenaud is not allowed back.

If Dupont is going off to have an HIA, Machenaud is allowed back.

Machenaud, the tactically replaced player, is allowed back.

Let's look at the law.

Law 3 TEAM


Tactically replaced players may return to play only when replacing:

An injured front-row player.

A player with a blood injury.

A player undertaking an HIA.

A player who has just been injured as a result of foul play (as verified by the match officials).

The nominated player described in Law 3.18 or 3.19. [This deals with front row players.]

This case will certainly be investigated by World Rugby, human nature being what it is.

In the days when only injuries could result in a player being replaced, it was not unknown for team doctors to be given signed forms by the official doctor before the match for their use during the match.

When bleeding became an issue, there were cases of the use of fake blood or the deliberate cutting of a player to produce blood to allow a substituted player back onto the field. 

PV: 2