Toulouse missed out on a Top 14 Semi Final place for the first time in years as they lost to Racing Metro on Friday. An ugly incident in the first half caused a bigger outcry though, as Florian Fritz was knocked out and bloodied, but later returned to the pitch.
Racing Metro won the play-off game 21-16 thanks to seven Jonny Sexton penalties, but fans and the rugby media couldn’t help but be shocked and outraged by what occurred earlier in the match.
Fritz had an unfortunate clash with the knee of Francois van der Merwe, which split him open almost instantly, and appeared to knock him out for a while. He got to his feet eventually but as you can see there was blood everywhere, he was disoriented and struggled to walk.
His night appeared to be over, but just fourteen minutes later Toulouse coach Guy Noves could be seen seemingly urging him and the medical staff to get him back out on to the pitch. It could be viewed as courageous by the player, but as one of the commentators said, it’s was ‘bonkers.’
The IRB concussion protocols are in place to prevent precisely this type of occurrence.
“It is shocking players are still being allowed to return to the field after such obvious signs of concussion,” said former IRB medical adviser Barry O’Driscoll. “If rugby doesn’t wake up to this and start demonstrating a zero tolerance approach to head injuries, it will be storing up some very serious legal problems for itself.”
Fritz came back on around the 33rd minute, with 7 stiches and 5 staples, and didn’t take contact, receive the ball or need to make a tackle, thankfully. He did leave the field at half time though, as common sense seemed to prevail and his condition clearly didn’t improve.
“I had a small KO. I don’t remember everything,” he reportedly told French TV station, Canal Plus.
Both Noves and the medical staff involved will come under investigation and of course, severe scrutiny. Another knock to the head could have had dire consequences. As it is, players with repeated concussions run the risk of ending their careers early, as well as long term complications.
There have been reports that referee Jerome Garces did not order a concussion test to be done, so it never happened. Those tests are there to check when it isn’t entirely obvious. In this case it seemed clear that by Fritz’s behaviour he shouldn’t have come close to returning.
Below you can see an English commentary video with the incident and his return to the field