TRAINING conditions were pleasantly warm for the Scotland squad in Edmonton last week, and the temperature for last night’s evening kick-off against Canada was due to be somewhere around 10 degrees centigrade. In Houston this week, by contrast, it is going to be hot. Oppressively so.

Which is where James Robson comes in. Scottish Rugby’s chief medical officer has worked within the sport for decades, and is perhaps best known for his dedication to improving the understanding and treatment of concussion. But, as a general practitioner, he is always on hand to advise Gregor Townsend on any number of issues, and in Texas how to deal with extreme heat will be at the top of the head coach’s list of concerns.

Robson is confident that, with adequate preparation beforehand and care during the game, players need not suffer unduly when the temperature starts to rise up to the high 30s or perhaps even further.

Without it, by contrast, not only will individuals suffer the consequences of dehydration, the team’s chances of winning the game will be seriously compromised.

“You’ve got to get to know the guys that suffer badly in the heat,” said Robson, a veteran of six tours with the British & Irish Lions as well as in excess of 200 Tests with Scotland. “There are one or two who we know are heat-sensitive, but by and large we’re fortunate at the moment that most of the guys tolerate the heat quite well.

“The bigger you are, the more likely you are to warm your core temperature. So the slighter guys benefit from that, but of course sometimes they don’t have the resilience of the heavier guys. If you’re too skinny you lose that resilience – one or two of the guys are saying they’re picking up one or two knocks more at the moment because they’re that little bit lighter than they would normally be in the season.

“So there are lots of factors to take into consideration. And in the hotter environment we take every advantage to get water on. We’re often criticised for holding up or disrupting play, but at the end of the day in an oppressive environment, player welfare has to come first.

“I’d cite the case of the Lions when we were in Hong Kong, and it’s a case of speaking to the officials and the other team beforehand and having an agreement. World Rugby have a heat policy, and the people hosting the game must check the temperature and humidity and see whether an extra water break is undertaken.

“We might be up to that level in Houston.”

While Saturday night’s game against the United States will pose particular problems because of the extreme heat, the issue of how to deal with concussion is relevant whatever the weather.

In a contact sport such as rugby there will always be a risk of concussion just as there is with other types of injury, but Robson is confident that the authorities at least have a serious, enduring commitment to minimising that risk wherever possible, and to dealing with concussion in the most conscientious manner.

“We’re definitely on the right track: rugby has endeavoured to put its house in order at the earliest opportunity, and they’re progressing it. There’s lots of effort going into it, and there’s a phenomenal amount of research.

“We’ve got the head-injury protocol in situ for all three of the Tests here” – Scotland’s short summer tour of the Americas ends with a match against Argentina a week on Saturday – “and it remains beholden on everybody to play a part in recognition. That’s where the players have been powerful, and certainly the coaches.”

The willingness of players to be honest about what may have happened to them during a game is one reason for Robson’s relative satisfaction with the way in which concussion is now dealt with. Another reason is the attitude of senior coaches such

as Townsend.

“My head coach has been on my radio into my earpiece as I tended a couple of guys on the pitch, alerting me to the fact that there may be certain signs that he’d seen,” he recalled.

“So you can educate non-medical people to recognise the signs of concussion.

“A big sea change for me is not only the coaches doing that, but also the players being responsible for each other, and also being far more honest with us – coming up to us afterwards and saying ‘James, maybe I’m not quite right, I think I took a hit’.

“So you may not see something, but if they report it afterwards, you can manage it as a concussion.

“I’m massively encouraged by the progress we’ve made. I’m sometimes frustrated by what seems to be the slowness, but you need the research. It’s got to be research – and evidence-led.”