Cape Town - George North's health after another suspected concussion is of greater importance than his return to the field according to Warren Gatland.
Speaking in Ireland at the unveiling of the British and Irish Lions assistant coaches for the tour to New Zealand next year, Gatland expressed concern for the Wales wing after he appeared to be knocked unconscious in a collision with Leicester wing Adam Thompstone.
North has a history of concussions, including two for Wales in the same match against England in 2015, and was previously stood down for months after another incident playing for Northampton against Wasps.
“Forget about rugby, George’s health is the most important thing, not just in the short-term but in the long-term,” Gatland said, as quoted by the Guardian.
“There’s quite a bit of evidence to show that there are potentially long-term effects for people who have taken a number of knocks in contact sport. He needs to consider that, to see specialists about that to show that he is 100 percent right.
"Rugby is secondary. His health is the most important thing.”
Gatland insisted there would be no pressure from his corner for North to return any sooner than required, adding that last weekend's incident had left him asking questions regarding how it had been handled.
“There are two things I find a bit strange: that George passed the HIA (Head Injury Assessment) and I am not sure that he didn’t stay still, just momentarily, to make sure everything was OK before he moved,” said Gatland.
“From a coaching point of view, you assume the process has been followed. I absolutely understand it’s concerning.
“George has had a few knocks in the past and you want to make sure a player goes through the right process to make sure that if he does play again, he is fully fit and recovered. And if he does pick up knocks in the future, it needs to be dealt with and he needs to potentially consider what is the best process for him to go through.
“He has stepped down in the past for a lengthy amount of time, and if he does need that again, then it is something people better qualified than me need to consider. I promise you, there will be no pressure from me in terms of getting on the field quickly.”