By Nick Butler at the Ballsbridge Hotel in Dublin

Martin Raftery and George Gregan have both worked to promote player welfare in rugby ©Getty ImagesNovember 18 - Martin Raftery, the chief medical officer of the International Rugby Board (IRB), insisted here that huge steps are being taken to improve safety and player welfare across all forms of the game.

The Medical Commission is being held alongside the IRB General Assembly and the inaugural World Rugby Conference which opened this afternoon, and all three events have put forward player welfare as one of the key issues in the sport.

In particular this involves the introduction of Pitch-side Suspected Concussion Assessment (PSCA) which has revolutionised treatment of head injuries, it is claimed.

In contrast to previous methods, players will be taken off the pitch for five minutes to receive "multi-modal" tests to assess whether they are able to continue - which are more accurate and less affected by on pitch emotions. 

Raftery insisted these changes have already brought about a considerable reduction in players staying on the pitch while concussed, although he accepts there is further to go and that the changes are yet to be accepted by the whole rugby community.

As well as the 15-a-side version of the game, this is something which he also sees as integral to rugby sevens as it makes its Olympic bow at Rio 2016.

Player welfare is a concern in sevens as well as in 15 man rugby ©Getty ImagesPlayer welfare is a concern in sevens as well as in 15 man rugby ©Getty Images

"We're trying to adapt the concept of the PSCA to sevens and we're doing some trials in the IRB World Series at the moment, so we're looking to protect those players as well," he told insidethegames.

"At the moment we have a programme in place which ran at the Gold Coast Sevens, and we've had feedback on that so we have tweaked a little bit.

"Being off for five minutes in sevens is a big part of the game but its still important that we protect the athletes.

"The other thing different in sevens is that we have matches within a couple of hours and then the next day - so we need to look at all those different issues.

"Every injury is important and we're introducing strategies which go right across the breadth and depth of rugby."

Raftery added he had already consulted with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the issue and explained that they have been "pretty supportive".

"[The] IOC definitely see player welfare as vital but our feedback already is that we are very close to the top of the tree in comparison with other federations," he said.

"They're not worried about that at all and they recognise that we are a contact sport, and most of their sports are not contact sports."

Raftery, speaking alongside figures including IRB chief executive Brett Gosper and Australian rugby legend George Gregan, explained how player welfare extends beyond merely concussion into many other areas.

The IRB have also launched various poster campaigns to raise awareness of concussion ©Irish RugbyThe IRB have also launched various poster campaigns to raise awareness of concussion ©Irish Rugby

One example is that because of a recognised lack of medical coverage at sevens tournaments, the IRB now funding an independent tournament team physician for the circuit.

However, it is the PSCA which has been seen as the most radical step and - although it has been accepted by many leagues and international competitions - this has not yet been universal and there has been criticism from some quarters.

Yet Raftery emphasised that while previously 56 per cent of players with concussion carried on playing, with harmful short and long term affects, that number is now down to 13 per cent and with more research underway should fall further.

Fellow speaker Gregan, who earned a world record 139 international caps for Australia before retiring in 2007, emphasised how there had also been changes in player philosophy regarding injury.

"Rugby is a game when you take a knock and want to stay on in the fight, but players are now understanding that going off will help in the long-term," he said.

"There is less pressure when you are treated off the field of play and less emotion forcing a quick decision.

"It would be great to get numbers below 13 per cent and this is a really important part of the game going forward."