The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will introduce a law change to the tackle height in age grade rugby in England for the 2021/22 season.
The existing rules for those playing full contact rugby at Under 9 to Under 14 levels has an imagined line between the armpits as the maximum height of a legal tackle.
Under the law change, approved by the RFU Council, this rule now extends to Under 15 to Under 18 levels bringing the tackle height down from shoulder level to the armpit for those age groups.
This means all players who are permitted to tackle in full contact age grade rugby (those participating at Under 7 and Under 8 level play non-contact rugby) will do so at the same height.
The RFU takes player welfare very seriously and it is at the heart of the training delivered to coaches, referees and medics at all levels of the game. The rules in operation ensure maximum possible safety for children, allowing players the time to learn rugby basics before contact is gradually introduced.
While the age grade and professional game cannot be realistically compared, the aim of the law change is to further reduce any community game high risk tackle events by taking two heads out of the same “air space”.
There are a number of programmes, courses and resources to support schools, clubs and participants at all levels of the game including the Rugby Safe programme, Don’t be a HEADCASE concussion guidance and the Activate injury prevention programme.
Rugby has a role to play in keeping people active, healthy and engaged. It also has other non-physical positive benefits for all ages, including increasing confidence, self-esteem, self-discipline and building character. There are also other rugby options including tag, touch and adapted versions of the contact game such as X-rugby for those players wanting to play variations from the full contact version of the game.
RFU Head of Game Development John Lawn said: “This is an exciting and important piece of work. We started planning for this back in 2019 and it builds on everything done in the age grade game over the last decade putting in place a building block approach to full contact rugby.
“We want to make the game as safe as possible, but without losing the physical element that’s popular with players and this law change supports that.
“As a result of the fallow 2020-2021 season due to Covid-19 all age grade players, except for next season’s Under 17 and Under 18 age grades, will only have experienced tackling below the line of the armpit. A continuation of the laws they were previously familiar with will support their reintegration back into the game.
“Maintaining a single tackle height also supports the integration of players in the dual or triple age bands in the girls’ game.”
In addition, the RFU will be implementing and evaluating a waist height tackle law variation and restricting late dipping/leading into contact with the head by the ball carrier in approximately 1,200 games in the Under 16 to Under 18 age grades during 2021/22.
Again, the aim is to evaluate the impact of law change on tackler and ball carrier behaviour has on reducing the occurrence of the highest risk tackle events (head-on-head contact) by taking two heads out of the same air space; to reduce the risk for the tackling player when faced with a ball carrier who is bent at the waist and create opportunities for more offloads/passes.
While coach and match official development already focuses heavily on safe coaching and refereeing of the tackle, we will be placing even greater emphasis on this area in the lead up to and during the 2021-2022 season.
To allow us to evaluate the impact, these games will be compared to the same number (1,200) played under standard laws with the same age grades. The evaluation will take place across three different environments:
- Rugby playing schools and colleges
- Club boys
- Club girls
We have received a positive response from Constituent Body competition organisers, England Rugby Football Schools Union, HMC Schools, England Colleges RFU, Association of Colleges Sport, Rugby Football Referees Union and Referee Societies who will be key to the smooth implementation of this important evaluation project.
As well as video capture and game analysis, injury surveillance will be collected alongside feedback from players, coaches and referees.
RFU Medical Services Director Dr Simon Kemp added: “It’s an evidence-based, game-led approach. This is about head impact and concussion prevention. We know that the most effective control measures are law changes and coaching behaviour. What we’re doing here is taking five or six years of data analysis to develop and implement a law change supported by coach input that we anticipate will have a positive effect on injury risk.”
“Interim outcomes from the evaluation of a waist height tackle law variation in French community rugby show that a tackle at waist height or below together with the prohibition of the ball carrier bending into contact are having a positive impact on reducing the number of serious head impacts, are viewed positively by players, coaches and referees and from the video examples provided appeared to show a change in the shape of the game, with fewer rucks and more offloads.
“We are very excited to be evaluating a waist height tackle law variation of our own next season to see what we can learn from the data and player and coach feedback.”