Rugby - Blue cards on show as Australia, New Zealand step up concussion fight

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian Rugby Union have followed trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand by introducing a blue card to be used by referees to prevent players from staying on the pitch after being concussed.

The programme will initially be trialled in Australia at club level in two regions, while New Zealand's trial will take in all senior games in the 14 largest provincial unions.

Referees will show the blue card to any player exhibiting concussion symptoms and they will have to leave the field and go through a mandatory recovery programme.

Adults will not be able resume any training for 12 days, while players under 18 face a 19-day stand down period, the ARU said on Thursday. In New Zealand, the stand down period is a minimum of three weeks.

All players also require medical clearance to return.

"The blue card trial ... follows over two years of extensive research on concussion and concussion management from World Rugby down through each nation," ARU Chief Medical Officer Warren McDonald said in a statement.

"The blue card is a visual cue that a player has a suspected concussion and they will be removed from the field of play and won't be coming back that day.

"It's about recognising and removing a player that is suffering the effects of a head knock."

The lingering effects of concussion and links to permanent brain damage have been at the forefront of discussions in all major contact sports around the world in recent years.

World Rugby heavily criticised English club Northampton's handling of a concussion suffered by George North in a club match late last year, with the Wales winger allowed to return to the field after being knocked unconscious.

Several recent All Blacks and Wallabies have been forced into early retirement due to multiple head knocks, while New Zealand lock James Broadhurst has not played since August 2015.

Australia's National Rugby League issued record fines to three clubs on Monday for breaching the competition's concussion protocols.

(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Nick Mulvenney)

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