GEORGE North’s welfare and his future in rugby were the key factors that Wales considered before excluding him from their RBS Six Nations clash against Scotland in Edinburgh on Sunday.
Wales head coach Warren Gatland underlined those points after naming a team showing just one change – Liam Williams for North – following last week’s 21-16 home loss to England.
Northampton wing North has been given an extended recovery period by Wales and he will not be involved in the BT Murrayfield encounter.
North suffered two heavy blows to his head during the England clash, and although the Welsh Rugby Union has said he has been symptom-free in terms of concussion – which Gatland reiterated yesterday – he will now spend time recovering.
North, 22, was concussed when Wales lost to world champions New Zealand last November, and he sat out the following weekend’s Millennium Stadium appointment with South Africa.
Rugby Union’s world governing body, World Rugby, said earlier this week that North should not have remained on the field after a clash of heads with team-mate Richard Hibbard during the England clash.
But World Rugby added that it accepted the WRU’s explanation surrounding the incident.
North appeared to suffer a momentary loss of consciousness after the 61st-minute collision with Hibbard. WRU national medical manager Prav Mathema subsequently admitted that had the second incident been seen by medics then North would have been immediately taken off and replaced.
North left the field in the first half after receiving an accidental boot to the head from England lock Dave Attwood, but he was able to continue after treatment.
Speaking yesterday, Gatland said: “Potentially, he was available this week. He was in the middle of the protocols in terms of the concussion stuff.
“But we just felt that he had taken a couple of knocks last week, he took another knock against the All Blacks in the autumn, and from our point of view one of the things we pride ourselves on is the welfare of the players and putting the players first.
“The decision was made as much about him being a young man and making sure he is being looked after from a welfare point of view.
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“I spoke to him this morning. He is not a happy man, I can tell you that. He is disappointed that we have ruled him out.
“I said to him it is not a rugby decision, it is a welfare decision about him and his longevity in the game. I said to him ‘you have taken a couple of knocks last Friday, and the last thing that you need, anyone needs or the game needs is that if you get another knock this Sunday, we don’t need that in the game at the moment’.
“So the precautionary thing is to make a positive decision about George and his welfare in the future.”
Gatland, who said that North could have faced the Scots had he passed a protocol test today, added: “George is completely symptom-free.
“The first time he got a knock [against England], if you talk to George about that, he felt perfectly fine. He got a bit of a kick in the head, has been a bit sore, and he was taken off as a precautionary measure to test him.
“As far as I am concerned, our medical team have followed the protocols.
“If we had seen the [second] incident, we would have done something about it.
“I am more than happy for you to talk to any of our players about our approach to any of the medical stuff in terms of backing the players 100 per cent.”
Prop Samson Lee, though, has been named in the starting line-up for Murrayfield, subject to him successfully completing graduated return-to-play protocols after he was concussed against England.
“Samson has got to go through his protocols,” Gatland added.
“We are taking Scott Andrews up with us as cover just in case he [Lee] doesn’t pass the final test tomorrow.”
Asked if he had considered making a number of changes after England, Gatland said: “There was a lot of pressure in terms of that.
“Sometimes, for whatever reason, you make changes, and other times you have got to back the experience and back those players that haven’t performed in that second half [against England].
“It is going to be a tough game for us going up there [to Scotland]. We have got to get back on the horse and get out there and play well.”
Scarlets winger Williams deputised for North last year in his country’s victory over South Africa which followed the match against the All Blacks in which North was concussed. He could well have been in contention for a place against Scotland in any case, even had there been no North controversy, as some observers in Wales thought he should be included in Gatland’s starting line-up instead of Cardiff winger Alex Cuthbert.
Gatland would then have had to decide whether to switch full-back Leigh Halfpenny to the wing in order to accommodate Williams as the last line of defence.