As I See It

To open 2015, I’d like to welcome my Dad, Terry O’Neill to the The World writing team. Dad’s been covering regional sport in New Zealand in print and radio for as long as I can remember and his As I See It commentary delivers insights into contemporary sports issues…

We had planned to launch this at the end of the year but a major computer meltdown on my part delayed proceedings until I could rebuild and recover everything…


Springboks vs All Blacks, 1956 (c)

The picture is of my choosing as I always like to lead a post with a picture, all the rest is Dads…

By Terry O’Neill

The 1956 Springboks New Zealand tour, concussion, the rapid development of gymnasiums, and Irishmen Brian O’Driscoll and his uncle Barry O’Driscoll, appear to have little in common.

That tour was the first by South African since 1937, and prior to it All Black selectors stated that back trialists, midfield in particular, must weigh at least twelve stone, an indication of the approaching tour’s intensity. Since then, players have pursued improved performance through intense physical development. Increased muscular bulk multiplied by greater pace, and changes in defensive techniques may be spectacular entertainment but raise serious concerns about head injuries. Significantly last season’s English Under 18 team were, player for player, heavier than those of the 1991 World Cup English side.

That Irish prince of centres, Brian O’Driscoll, the most capped test player with 141, believes the All Blacks will win the next World Cup because of their higher skill factor. “I don’t think the gym monkey thing applies to them as much as it does over here. They have farmer strength. The Polynesians guys are pretty strong without going to a gym. They focus way more from an early age on skills. They do everything with a ball. They have balance. They have that physicality, but they are able to mix their game up.”

Barry O’Driscoll, former early 1970s Irish fullback and a medical doctor, served the IRB medical committee 15 years but resigned in protest at the trial of their new head injury protocol. Previous policy stated that any player suspected of suffering concussion had to leave the field and not play for a week (incidentally reduced from three weeks in earlier policy). New IRB guidelines state a player can return to the field five minutes after an injury providing a medical inspection has cleared him of concussion.

The game has changed admits Barry O’Driscoll. “Rugby’s now a big community sport. So what’s important is to get the spectators in? The TV in? They love big hits.”

Current players’ size and weight is accentuated by the tackling technique change from “around the legs” to the defensive side’s emphasis on the all-encompassing upper body tackle. This attempts to jolt the ball loose, or to try and smother it and force a turnover, leading to more head clashes.

Brian O’Driscoll said he’s not a fan of gymnasiums. “In Ireland there is a huge focus on the weights room, as opposed to whether a player can throw a 10m pass on the run. They should be rugby players becoming athletes, not athletes becoming rugby players.”

Statistically 50 percent of injuries occur in tackles. Under 18 schoolboys have half the injuries of those in professional ranks, and hookers and flankers are most susceptible.

Does the IRB care about players’ wellbeing? Or do these practices attract more dosh from TV moguls?
But change is on the way. In the Saracens/ London Irish rugby game played a fortnight ago the Saracen players wore a device behind the ear referred to as the X patch which measures the size and direction of hits to the head. The X patch is currently being used in American football as well.
Tradition is a terrible reason to give people avoidable brain damage.” – Chris Nowinski, co-dir. for study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, Boston University School of Medicine, former Harvard Ivy Football player.



First published in The North Otago Times 10 January 2015.

A sobering thought

I’ve deliberately held off on any comment on the shootings in Fort Hood last week. Every man and his dog has been all over the event from every possible angle. Of all the commentary to date, one of the best is John Birmingham’s Blunty column in the Brisbane Times, largely quoting a commentary from US writer and historian, Stephen Murphy. Please read the comments under the article as well.

  • This was one individual who snapped, not an organised planned attack.
  • We should focus on why he snapped and NOT his culture or religion.
  • America and its friends and allies must resist the temptation to discriminate against other Muslims or people of Arabic descent because of this incident. One of our greatest strengths in the war on terror are those rights and freedoms that we fight so hard to protect but which also provide the opportunities for individuals to act as MAJ Hassan did.
  • It is not about having greater or lesser access to firearms.
  • It could have happened anywhere – not just in the US or the US military.

I think that perhaps were should be less amazed that this tragedy occurred and more mazed that it has not occurred more often: regardless of issues regarding the Islamic jihad, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of soldiers from the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have fought in COMBAT operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Only ONE has taken issues to this extent: if nothing else, surely that is a good indication that the checks and balances ARE already in place AND that they are working well…As far back as 2005, the USMC had already identified the destabilising behavioural effects of minor traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) and introduced a robust screening programme to identify and treat at-risk individuals. The US Army has introduced similar programmes. Although GEN Casey has pledged more resources for mental health programmes, I do believe that the US DOD does need to credit itself for the steps that it has implemented already.

MTBI is a hot topic for me as I have had to deal with ACC and CRM (ACC managers contracted to NZ Police) to ensure that family members suffering from MTBI and TBI get a fair shake of the stick. So often victim of TBI do not get a fair shake because the effects of these injuries can be difficult to diagnose and may present themselves in a broad range of symptoms and effects. If nothing else, the one thing I did learn from a number of years battling with both organisations (those who think ACC is bad, wait til you try the privatised version like CRM!! Be careful what you wish for when you clamour for ACC privatisation!) is that screening and identification early definitely contributes to a faster recovery, mitigation and treatment of the injuries, reduction of long-term issues, and reintegration into society. At least the US DOD has learned this lesson and has no doubt saved many lives already  – it’s unfortunate that we fixate on the one who slipped through the system…