Martin Smith column: Use our heads to look after kids like Harry

Harry Westlake
Harry Westlake
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For once it wasn’t the FA Cup that stole the show at the weekend.

No disrespect to Bradford city or Sunderland, we sort of expected that.

No, the star wasn’t football or any actual sporting action – it was a six-year-old boy called Harry Westlake.

Young Harry, from Devon, was captured on camera belting out the national anthem before Englands’ 47-17 win over Italy at Twickenham.

He was mascot for the day and the rugby-loving lad was not going to waste his opportunity.

Now he’s what we all call an ‘internet sensation’ though try finding any actual video footage of him singing and you’ll struggle.

Not being a keen follower of rugby of either code – Saturday morning playing for school cured me – the last item on rugby I came across was a BBC item about head injuries.

When you look at young Harry’s face as he almost bursts with pride for the game he loves it’s hard to think of a 16-stone man crashing into him when he’s fully grown.

A 16- stone man who can run 100 metres in 13 seconds hitting him at full tilt.

As a soccer wimp, this terrifies me.

I have nothing but admiration for those rugby lads who smash into each other, smile through their gumshields and get on with it.

They love it.

But as players get bigger, fitter and stronger, there are some real issues around safety in rugby.

The number of reported concussions in English rugby rose by 59% in 2013-14 compared to the previous season, and, as in football, we’re only really beginning to understand sporting head injuries and the lasting damage they can cause.

Unfortunately getting bigger, fitter, stronger doesn’t make our skulls and brains any more resilient.

They still break when you hit them too hard.

As someone with the memory of a stunned aphid, I can’t really blame the heading of footballs for 20 years in the lower leagues for my dozy moments.

But as America’s soccer moms start action to protect their kids from the potential perils of head injuries, you can be assured the debate will grow over here.

No-one wants to take the fire out of rugby or lose the wonder of a headed goal which can be a thing of great beauty – Harry Kane against Arsenal?

But lads like young Harry Westlake don’t need to suffer brain damage for their enthusiasm and love of sport either.