Kerry Marshall/fake images
Auckland Storm captain Eloise Blackwell, right, thinks a new saliva test is “great” for women’s rugby.
New Zealand Rugby medical manager Karen Rasmussen admits HIA’s current process for detecting and managing concussions has its limitations, but believes a new saliva test could pave the way for a game-changing assessment that’s quick. and plain.
All Farah Palmer Cup players from all provincial unions will take part in the saliva test, which is also supported by World Rugby, and samples will be collected if a player is suspected of having suffered a concussion.
In the case of brain injury, chemicals are produced that can be detected in saliva, and while the current trial will involve sending the samples abroad for testing, Rasmussen said the ultimate goal of field concussion testing was one step closer.
“We don’t have a point of care testing where you can basically do the swab and get the results right away…[but] then hopefully, over time, the science will catch up and we will have that point-of-care test that will then be available to give us a more objective measure of whether or not someone has had a concussion,” he said.
“We saw it with Covid and the 15-minute test that we can do for that. So there’s definitely the potential for that.”
Such a test would transform rugby and remove the controversy surrounding HIA’s current three-step process.
Rasmussen said a reliable saliva test could eliminate human error and subjectivity from concussion management.
“Every tool that we can use to increase the accuracy of concussion identification is a good thing,” he said.
“I think the HIA process is good, but it depends on people, and people make mistakes and miss things.
“So being able to have something objective, in addition to the clinical arm, is important.”
Auckland Storm captain Eloise Blackwell, a 46 Test Black Fern, is on top when it comes to concussion and the women’s game.
Surprisingly, not even the HIA process was put in place during last year’s Farah Palmer Cup (the competition was still run under community rugby guidelines), but that has changed this season, and Blackwell said the additional saliva test it was a significant advance.
“This is going to be huge for our game to be able to collect evidence and data in the future,” Blackwell said.
“…for the players, it will give us that peace of mind, because it is very easy. It will be so easy to find out if we have a blow to the head. It’s going to be pretty big in the future.”
The testing will involve taking samples at each stage of the HIA process: after the incident, a few hours after the game, and then again a few days after the game.
Comparison of the results with baseline tests provided by all players prior to the season should provide an accurate assessment of not only the concussion itself, but also the recovery time required.
Blackwell’s interest in the area is also twofold, as she is a rugby coach at Epsom Girls’ Grammar School in Auckland and has a duty to look after her young players.
“People need to understand that their brain is very important, and at the end of the day, it’s just a game we’re playing.” she said.
New Zealand Rugby says it is a “big step” in the right direction for the women’s game here and around the world.
“I had to remove players, and some of them get pretty upset about it, but in due time they realize and understand how important it is.”
Rasmussen said the ultimate goal of those working in the concussion area was not to remove the inherent physicality of the game, but to give participants as much information and care as possible.
“You can get to a level where everyone understands what that risk is, and we’re doing everything we can to try to minimize the risk of our players getting a concussion,” he said.
“All these little jobs that we’re doing in the community game and in the professional game are geared toward preventing concussions and pinpointing them when they happen.”