12:48 3 February 2017
FOCUS: Rugby: Players put at risk by bureaucracy and misunderstanding
By Rich Freeman
TOKYO, Feb. 3, Kyodo
The health and welfare of some of Japan's top rugby players was put at risk last Sunday by bureaucratic red tape and an inability to fully comprehend new directives from the sport's governing body.
The All-Japan Championship final was marred by the absence of the Head Injury Assessment -- the protocol in place to help deal with concussion -- and an apparent ignoring of World Rugby's new directives on high and dangerous tackles.
But Takeyuki Kishikawa, chairman of the Japan Rugby Football Union's referee committee, said the union was not to blame for the lack of the HIA.
"To have the HIA in place you need to make an application to World Rugby and all the teams in the tournament need to have the correct data in place," he said in an exclusive interview with Kyodo News.
The HIA was used throughout the Top League season but it is not used at any other level of rugby in Japan, meaning the players and medical staff from Teikyo University did not have the required medical data baseline needed to apply the test.
As such, even though Teikyo lost in the semifinals, the tournament rules and regulations prevented the HIA from being in place when Suntory Sungoliath met Panasonic Wild Knights in the final.
"We were basically told it was a case of all or nothing," said Top League Commissioner Osamu Ota when asked why the rules could not be changed mid-tournament to accommodate the two Top League sides in the final.
A spokesman for World Rugby confirmed this in an email to Kyodo.
"JRFU is correct in its approach if there is not blanket compliance by all of the teams. In this case, 'Recognise and Remove' applies," he said referring to the process by which Panasonic lock Daniel Heenan was eventually removed from the game, without the chance of undergoing a pitch-side evaluation.
"We are actively working on a program of education and compliance with the JRFU and they have made good progress over the last year with compliance achieved in the Top League through medic and player education. The next step will be the layer below," the spokesman said of plans to introduce the process to players and teams outside the top flight.
On the subject of the new directives on high tackles, however, Kishikawa admitted there had been a problem.
World Rugby introduced new sanctions on Jan. 3 to deal with tackles that see contact made with a player's head.
At least three such tackles were made in the final, but referee Taku Otsuki failed to apply the new tougher sanctions that could have seen two players sent off and one yellow card handed out.
"The new directives have been introduced but the extent to which they are applied is not clear," Kishikawa said.
The 52-year-old former fullback said the JRFU had only received instructions on paper. "We need more information and footage on how the sanctions should be applied and then share that with the referees and teams so they understand the new laws."
Kishikawa said that World Rugby's High Performance 15s Match Officials Manager Allain Rolland, who watched the game at Prince Chichibu Memorial Rugby Ground, had promised to hold lectures in Japan to ensure there was a better understanding of how the sanctions should be applied.
Meanwhile, Ota said a seminar would be held in Japan this year -- the first of its kind -- to educate doctors and medical staff about the HIA in the hope it can soon be applied at other levels of rugby in the country.