Rugby Australia to implement trial to lower tackle height in community Rugby

Fri, Dec 1, 2023, 3:00 AM
Rugby Australia
by Rugby Australia

Rugby Australia (RA) today confirmed that it will implement a new trial that will see the legal height of tackles in the game lowered to below the sternum from February.

The governing body has begun an extensive stakeholder engagement and educational program to reach administrators, coaches, match officials and players around the country with the details of the new law and expectations around its application.

The trial is primarily designed to reduce the risk of head-to-head and head-to-shoulder contact between ball carriers and tacklers. According to comprehensive World Rugby research, the risk of concussion is more than four times higher when the tackler’s head is above the ball carrier’s sternum.

The new law (9.13) will see dangerous tackling now deemed to include, but not be limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the sternum.

Match officials will be asked to place greater emphasis on the existing law preventing a ball carrier from “dipping” into a tackle and placing themselves, and potentially the defender, in an unsafe position for contact.

The new law will not change the ability for an attacking player to "pick-and-go" where the ball carrier typically starts and continues at a low body height. The defender will still be required to avoid contact with the head and neck of the ball carrier as stipulated in the existing World Rugby Head Contact framework.

The two-year trial comes after Rugby Australia announced its support for World Rugby’s global research initiative last March, and will apply to all levels of Rugby below Super Rugby level when introduced in February.

It follows more than six years of research that has already seen trials of lower tackle heights undertaken in nations including France, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Wales and Scotland.

Preliminary data in South Africa has shown a 30 per cent reduction in concussions, while France recorded a 64 per cent reduction in head-on-head contact – as well as a 14 per cent increase in participation on pre-COVID levels.

This change in law will apply to all competitions below Super Rugby that commence on or after 10 February, 2024, through till the end of 2025. This will include all Premier Grades, School Competitions, and Pathway Competitions.

Rugby Australia CEO Phil Waugh says the extensive research done on this project by World Rugby indicates a significant opportunity to make the game safer.

“Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game,” said Mr Waugh.

“Obviously it is impossible to remove all risk from the game, however we firmly believe that promoting safer tackle techniques, and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will lead to an even safer game. I am confident our players and coaches at all levels of the game will continue to work on safe and effective tackle technique.

“This is firmly in the best interests of the game, however there may be an adjustment period for players and match officials, and I would ask for patience and respect between all parties as we embark on this journey.

“In the French trial, they saw a significant increase in penalties in the first year of the trial, followed by a substantial drop in those numbers over the next two years as players and officials adjusted to the new measures.

“We will continue to ensure that any decisions that have the potential to impact the game are driven by research and evidence that prioritise player safety.”

Rugby Australia’s General Manager, Community Rugby, Michael Procajlo says the decision to lower the tackle height involved consultation with the game’s stakeholders.

“We have been engaged with our Member Unions, coaches, match officials, administrators, and medical professionals since March, when we first signalled our intent to participate in the global law trial – and that consultation has informed the implementation in Australia.

“The research undertaken by World Rugby to date has shown there are three different risk zones for tackling.

“The green zone encompasses the ball carrier’s torso from the sternum to the hips – this is the safest zone to tackle. Statistically, there is a little more risk once the tackle drops below the hips – hence it becomes amber. However, the greatest risk is present when tackles go above the sternum line and there is a higher risk of head-on-head or head-on-shoulder contact.

“Training and education will remain a strong focus for RA and the State and Territory Unions. We will roll out additional face-to-face coach education sessions and an eLearning course, game management guidelines for coaches and match officials, webinars for clubs and schools, and a range of online resources to assist with the change.

“This trial is just one component of Rugby Australia’s player welfare measures, which include the Blue Card and Concussion Management Procedure, Match Day Safety and Medical Requirements as well as comprehensive education and training for players and coaches on tackle and scrummaging techniques.

“We were fortunate to have the support of the Nick Tooth Foundation to develop the Blue Card and Concussion Management Procedure and are pleased to confirm they will also be supporting this trial as we assess it over the next two years.”

Key points:

·    New trial will see legal tackle height lowered to “below the sternum”

·    Primarily reduces risk of head-to-head and head-to-shoulder contact between ball carrier and tackler

·    Two-year trial to be implemented from 10 February 2024 across all Rugby in Australia below Super Rugby level

·    The result of more than six years of research and trials led by World Rugby

·    Clear interpretations for players “dipping” into contact, and pick-and-go

·    RA undertaking extensive stakeholder engagement, and educational program for players, parents, administrators, coaches, and match officials.

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