OPINION: It is not sensationalist to be worried about Johnny Sexton's concussion history 3 years ago

OPINION: It is not sensationalist to be worried about Johnny Sexton's concussion history

Provided he passes his final assessment on Tuesday, Johnny Sexton is free to line out against Wales on Sunday week.

Having stated the opposite after Saturday's heavy defeat to Wasps, Leinster coach Leo Cullen Monday said that Sexton did not fail his Head Injury Assessment.

“He went off and did his HIA, passed the questionnaire, but the medics weren’t fully happy. That’s why he didn’t return to the field," Cullen told reporters.

If the HIA was passed then the Leinster, Ireland and Lions fly-half can train freely with Joe Schmidt's squad ahead of the defence of their Six Nations title.

The confusion following the collision with former team-mate Brendan Macken is unhelpful and still a little disconcerting. Why weren't the medics "fully happy"?

The 30-year-old will almost certainly start Ireland's Championship opener, unlike last season.

Last season he was ruled out of the first match, against Italy, following French neurologist Dr Jean-François Cherman's imposition of a 12-week furlough on the Dubliner after he suffered four concussions in 2014.

George Hook believes it is time for Sexton to call time on his career for his own sake. Following Cullen's comments this will be disregarded by many in the game as another example of media hysteria regarding concussion in rugby.

Speaking at last year's Web Summit, Dr Rod McLaughlin, the head of medical services at the IRFU, hit out at the "inappropriate" coverage of the concussion issue.

“I do think there is a lot of focus on it and some of the coverage is inappropriate," said McLaughlin. "In rugby, there’s around one concussion in every 30 [matches]. That means the vast majority of players will go through a season without being concussed."


Disregarding Saturday's head injury, Sexton has still suffered four concussions in 25 months. The No 10 has played 55 matches since the start of 2014, which - if Saturday's incident is discounted - means he is averaging a concussion every 13.75 times he plays.

It is not sensationalist to note that Sexton has suffered a high number of concussions when compared to the accepted average stated by the the IRFU's own head of medical services.

In the last two seasons we have seen a number of high-profile retirements due to concussion - including Sexton's erstwhile Leinster team-mate Kevin McLaughlin, Ulster's Declan Fitzpatrick, former Connacht captain Craig Clarke, Shontayne Hape and Jonathan Thomas, the former Wales flanker who developed epilepsy.

It is not sensationalist to ask about the impact of repeated head injuries on professional athletes, particularly when you look at American football - where a class action lawsuit brought by former players and their families saw the NFL cover the cost of concussion-related compensation.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 16: Chris Borland #50 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after a tackle against the New York Giants in the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 16, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

When you have rookie players like Chris Borland retiring at the age of 24 following a "minor concussion" in training you can see that it is players, and not just the media, who are worried about the long-term effects of head injuries.

Luke Marshall's return to the Ireland squad for the Six Nations is proof that a player with a history of concussive episodes can go on to have a successful career.

The Ulster centre suffered four concussions between March 2013 and February 2014, which is the same number we know Sexton to have suffered in 2014.

The confusion surrounding Sexton's injury is proof that concussion remains a delicate issues for teams and players, but that does not mean it shouldn't be discussed.

It is not "inappropriate" to ask these questions or to highlight concussion in rugby, which remains a dizzying issue.