SIX Nations rugby returns today after a blessed weekend off, with one concussion victim back in full working order, but another restricted to a watching brief as his recovery continues.

While wing George North returns to the Wales starting XV to win his 50th cap against France in Paris this afternoon, England full back Mike Brown will be absent from the field in Dublin tomorrow (SUN) as his teammates face Ireland.

Much has been spoken and written about the players' respective injuries - North's two heavy blows to the head against England three weeks ago, and Brown's sickening collision with Italy's Andrea Masi the following weekend.

But it is their aftermath that has sparked an ongoing debate about the dangers and effects of concussion , which in turn has cast a welcome spotlight on the issue.

North of course, despite being seemingly out cold after the second of those incidents, was patched up and played on, sparking the latest controversy about whether rugby takes seriously the issue of head injuries and their potential effects. It is fair to say that the national team set-up did not cover itself in glory with respect to how it handled things.

Brown received lengthy treatment on the pitch before departing in a neck brace and though he reappeared on the bench later in the afternoon, he did not appear from the television pictures to be entirely sure whether he was in the right stadium.

That impression was only strengthened by the news last Wednesday that he had failed to complete the suddenly high profile concussion protocol that governs when players can return after sustaining head injuries.

The report from the England camp was that after undergoing light training the previous day, Brown had woken up with a headache.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Wednesday marked a full 12 days since the player had been stretchered off the Twickenham turf, after taking a blow to the head that had the occupants of my front room and doubtless untold thousands of others across the UK indulging in a collective sharp intake of breath.

Twelve days and yet he was still feeling the after-effects. Brown, we are informed, is gutted at missing the Ireland game and that is exactly one would hope a top flight sportsman would feel.

But sometimes the desire that drives these elite performers on can become their worst enemy, and they need to be bound by some sort of independent safeguarding system.

England's management may have taken the view, even without the concussion protocol, that Brown was not fit, but players - including in sports other than rugby - have kidded themselves and the management in the past that they have been fine when that was not the case.

It is important that this issue be kept in the public eye, because this sort of heavy contact goes on in rugby up and down the UK, at all levels of the game.

In November 2013, at Crickhowell, my then 17-year-old son was flattened in a coming together of cheekbone and elbow that left him sprawled on the ground during a youth fixture.

I was a considerable distance away and from my point of view it looked nothing like a collision, more like a missed tackle. It was shortly before half time and I was all ready to engage in some light-hearted banter about this, but didn't get a chance during the break.

He had received some attention and played the whole of the second half, though it was clear he was struggling with some unspecified problem.

It was only after the match that he informed me of the collision and his subsequent light-headedness, even as the swelling along his cheek and under his eye grew as he spoke.

For the following week and more, he complained of a persistent headache and pain when he ate and spoke.

No-one had spotted it at the time, he had soldiered on because he loved being on a rugby pitch, and I had totally misread the situation and knew nothing about it until after the final whistle.

It is important to point out here that I blame no-one for how this was handled. I advance it simply as an example of the sort of situation that might be avoided if the rules were tightened up, across the game.

Make it compulsory that players with head knocks be prevented from playing on - and perhaps in the youth and junior realm this should result in their compulsory and immediate replacement. If a team has not got sufficient and/or like-for-like positional replacements, then the referee should be under orders to adjust the playing conditions of the match, or even call it off.

Unpopular possibly (probably). But it is easy in retrospect, when recoveries have been made and nothing untoward has happened, to laugh incidents off as not as bad as they appear. In such an uncompromising contact sport, safety first must always be the guide.