Cape Town - SANZAAR has cleared New Zealand Rugby (NZR) of a "deliberate failure" in the handling of Sonny Bill Williams' head knock against the Wallabies.
The southern hemisphere's rugby governing body however confirmed that it has urgently reinforced World Rugby’s head injury assessment (HIA) protocols to all teams, medical staff and match officials involved in the Rugby Championship.
This follows an incident in the Rugby Championship match between Australia and New Zealand in Sydney last Saturday, where footage showed a collision involving the All Black centre in the early stages of the match.
SANZAAR initiated a HIA review after the Australian Rugby Union’s (ARU) chief medical officer (CMO) brought the matter to SANZAAR’s attention as part of the usual post-match review.
SANZAAR subsequently requested a full report of the incident from the host nation (ARU) CMO and the All Black team management as to why Williams was not taken from the field for an assessment in line with World Rugby HIA protocols.
SANZAAR has now completed its review of the incident and in line with World Rugby player welfare standards has established there has NOT been a deliberate failure or an 'untoward incident' pursuant to the terms of participation and as such finds no actions that constitute misconduct.
The review, involving all relevant match day and team medical staff, determined:
- The incident was not identified during the game via the appointed HIA specialist, the match day doctor, the team doctors or the match officials
-The available post-game video confirms ataxia, which would trigger immediate and permanent removal under World Rugby protocols
-While no process is entirely failsafe, the review panel determined that the missed HIA incident should have been identified during the match
Following the investigation, and to ensure player welfare standards and HIA protocols are tightened, SANZAAR has immediately initiated the roll out of additional educational modules for all match day medical staff, team management and match officials. The intent is to ensure best practice methods are entrenched through refreshing the knowledge of medical personnel and expanding the knowledge to match officials and team management in recognising the symptoms with Ataxia (unsteadiness) and suspected loss of consciousness.
SANZAAR has communicated with the national unions of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa to remind all match day staff, team management and match officials that continual education and best practices are a collective responsibility to ensure player welfare standards are upheld at all times in and out of competition.
SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos stated: “This is an unfortunate set of circumstances given the acute focus and attention we are all applying to player safety and in particular the HIA protocols. NZ Rugby has been proactive in its management of Sonny Bill Williams and we have full confidence in its processes to manage his return to play - as NZR has illustrated with other players such as Dane Coles and Ben Smith this year already.
“As a consequence, and even though there was no deliberate failure apparent, SANZAAR has taken the opportunity to strongly reinforce World Rugby HIA protocols including video analysis during the game, to all teams, match day medical staff and match officials participating in The Rugby Championship.
“Additionally, New Zealand Rugby has confirmed that Sonny Bill Williams is being managed in line with World Rugby HIA protocols, including HIA 3 and computer neuro-cognitive assessment, and will progress to a graduated return to play if asymptomatic.”