Law discussion: Concussion
Francois Venter, the Cheetahs captain runs with the ball and clashes with Lwazi Mvovo of the Sharks, Mvovo's shoulder against Venter's jaw. Venter stays down for a while and when he gets to his feet is clearly groggy. The referee is concerned about the player and on comes one of the Cheetahs' support team with a bib that says MEDIC, which means he is either a doctor or a physiotherapist. He and the referee agree that Venter should be tested for concussion. Off he goes and on comes Michael van der Spuy (12), a centre who has been substituted and is now on the bench.
A doctor in a suit runs Venter into the tunnel, presumably for the concussion test, known officially as the head injury assessment.
On the side of the field there are three officials, sometimes more, who regulate the coming and going of players – substitutions, injury replacements, injuries, bleeding repairs and the concussion test. It can be quite a hectic business. (Substitution is tactical, replacement for injury in the strict terms of the Laws of the Game.)
They then send the referee, who is about 60 metres away, a message telling him that Van der Spuy had to come off. The referee acts as messenger, and off Van der Spuy goes and the Cheetahs play the rest of the match with 14 men. This annoys them.
Till very recently the law governing the return of a substituted player read:
Law 3.12 SUBSTITUTED PLAYERS REJOINING THE MATCH
If a player is substituted, that player may only return to play when replacing a player with a blood injury or for an injured front row player. (Ignore the misplace 'only'.)
This has been changed in a recent law amendment dealing with the head injury assessment, bringit into line with blood injury.
Law 3.14 Substituted players rejoining the match
If a player is substituted, that player may only return to play when replacing:
an injured front row player in accordance with Law 3.5
a player with a blood injury in accordance with Law 3.11
a player undertaking a Head Injury Assessment in accordance with Law 3.12
a player who has been injured as a result of foul play (as verified by the Match Officials).
That means that Van der Spuy was allowed back on.
But – and it is a big But – the substituted player is not allowed back on to replace a permanently injured player, except in the front row. If the doctor then declared that Venter was not going to be tested for concussion because in fact he was injured, then Van der Spuy was required to leave the field.
Even if – and it is obviously not the case here – Van der Spuy had gone on and 10 minutes later Venter had not reappeared, Venter would then become an injured player and Van der Spuy would have had to leave the field.
This is only one aspect of the law that has to be administered by the match officials on the sidelines, but it does serve to show that the matter is complicated.
In this case there was one group claiming that Venter was off for a concussion test, the other side saying he was off permanently injured.