Rugby Union: Blue card gets trial run at Nick Tooth Memorial Rugby Tens

Dr Andrew Gardner holds the blue card which the Nick Tooth Foundation, pictured is Julie Tooth, are helping to implement. Photo: Gareth Gardner
Dr Andrew Gardner holds the blue card which the Nick Tooth Foundation, pictured is Julie Tooth, are helping to implement. Photo: Gareth Gardner

The blue card has been given the blue tick, as new protocol for managing concussion was used for the first time in the region at Saturday’s Nick Tooth Memorial Rugby Tens.

On hand to explain how the welfare card will work, ahead of it’s roll-out nationally next year, was ARU Concussion Consultant Dr Andrew Gardner.

The internationally recognised clinical neuropsychologist is no stranger to the region, completing a Bachelor of Psychology at the University of New England.

It was there that he first started becoming passionate about the complex world that is concussion in sport.

“There’s a lot that we do know, but there’s a lot that we still don’t know so there’s still a lot of research that still needs to be conducted,” Gardner said.

“Concussion is a very complex, multi-factorial, multi-systems injury and we still need learn a lot more about that and there’s always individual differences as well. So for one individual who sustains a knock, and another person might sustain a very similar knock and they might have totally different outcomes and we still don’t understand the mechanisms behind that.”

The introduction of the blue card nationally, follows pilot programs in Newcastle at the ACT this season and is an extension of the protocols that are already in place.

“The blue card system is really an initiative that really extends what we already have as our concussion protocol and policy,” he said.

“It’s basically just an identification that a player has sustained or is suspected of having sustained a concussion and so the referee can issue the card in collaboration with team staff or with other players.”

“We move them off the field, make sure they don’t go back on and they’re then referred to medical staff.”

Dr Andrew Gardner talks about concussion and the blue card

Currently being used in the National Rugby Championship, once it is rolled out, Gardner said the next step is to link it in with Rugby Link and form a national database, which will give them a better picture. Regular Central North referee Jono Phelps was one of the referees at the Tens on Saturday and said now with the blue card there is a process players have to go through.

“The good thing about it is once a blue card is issued they have to go off to be assessed, they have to be monitored after the game and they have to see medical staff within the next week. And they can’t play for 12 days at least,” he said.

Gardner said referees had expressed some concern that they were going to have to be the arbitrators, but that won’t be the case.

“It’s a collective effort. The ref won’t just pull out a blue card,” he said.

The roll-out is also being heavily backed by the Australian Rugby Foundation.

The national fund-raising body, the ARF has five areas of support - women’s rugby, grassroots, indigenous rugby, high performance and player welfare, and has been working with the Nick Tooth Foundation and Ian Tucker Foundation, to fund a nationwide concussion management program.

The blue card is part of that.

Director of the ARF Tim Steele was also in attendance at the Tens and is hoping the introduction of the blue card will help drive a change in attitude towards head injuries.

“We’ve got to shift the awareness and culture around concussion,” he said.

Particularly the culture. It has long been seen as macho to get knocked out and get back up and play on. 

“It’s not a question of whether you are macho, it’s the right thing to do,” he said.