RFU Representatives Report – New Tackle Height Law
We can fully understand the initial frustration from the players, particularly for adults who have played the game for several years. The law change may mean that a process of re-education will be needed for players, coaches, and match officials alike, but this is one of the reasons why the decision was taken immediately to allow upskilling to take place before next season. The RFU staff now have a great opportunity to work closer than ever with all of the above to help implement the change.
Please allow us to provide some context around the decision. This issue has not just appeared on the agenda, it began back in 2015. Please follow this link for a well-balanced view on the situation. https://www.patreon.com/posts/lowering-legal-77489775
The RFU Council were asked to vote on whether they thought the tackle height should be reduced to the naval (the stomach, not below the hips as some people have assumed) and the attacking player should where possible, remain upright when carrying the ball. The aim is to reduce the number of head-on-head collisions by doing so. We were then presented with a magnitude of video footage and data from studies carried out over the last 3-5 years in France (where these laws were implemented immediately in 2019 after four young players died whilst playing), New Zealand, South Africa and England. The data shows that 75% of concussions suffered whilst tackling was because the defender tackled high rather than going low. Two heads (the attacker and the defender) colliding at high speed is the main contributor to concussion in rugby.
Our simplistic view from a technical perspective is that the tackle height has only been reduced by give or take, 30 centimetres. From the shoulder to the bottom of the ribcage. I say this because if a tackle is made at the naval or below, the depth of the shoulder covers most of the stomach anyway. Also, if this is supplemented with the other ball carrying height law in place where the ball carrier is not allowed to dip into contact, the tackle height limit will be similar to what it is now. We have watched footage of matches with the new laws, and it remains very similar to today’s game. Understandably, there were a few more penalties as players were getting used to the new laws but there were more offloads and it was definitely more free-flowing. We are excited that the game will be more skilful and entertaining as a result.
The main driver behind the decision is player welfare and safety. As you may be aware, over 200 professional players and 55 amateur players have filed legal challenges against the game. The players claim they were not protected by the game from concussion and now they have brain damage. The danger is that if the research on tackle height is ignored, we may find ourselves in a similar situation. It was also felt that any delay could be very harmful to the game, hence why there wasn’t any consultation with the game as a whole.
We appreciate there are currently more questions than answers, but the RFU Council were not asked to vote on the law interpretations and what happens in this situation etc, etc. That is now the responsibility of RFU Governance who will work with experienced referees, coaches, and players to iron them out. However, you can only assume that an empathetic view will be taken by match officials as this is rolled out, in terms of red cards and disciplinary procedures.
Whilst we appreciate this is an emotive issue for many, we really hope that over time people can begin to understand the decision that was made. Once upon a time, it was seen as a sign of weakness to go off the pitch after a head knock and it is only recently that players have had to serve a three-week mandatory recovery period following a concussion. We have moved with the times, and we must do it again otherwise we may not have a game of rugby to play and watch. If these law changes make the game safer in the future, then in our opinion it is a decision worth taking.
Ted Atkinson and Joe Bedford