Tackles above the waist will be outlawed in age-grade matches next season as part of a law trial by the Rugby Football Union that could increase offloads and radically alter the nature of the sport.
The initiative also aims to restrict dipping into contact from ball-carriers, in a bid to reduce head-to-head contact and prevent concussion. It will be evaluated in 1,200 club and school matches for boys and girls between under-16 and under-18 levels.
Having monitored the progress of a similar trial in France, the RFU expect there to be fewer rucks and more opportunities for passes out of contact.
Injury surveillance will be collated and video analysis will be carried out over the 2021-22 season, with matches under these laws compared to 1,200 matches under standard ones at the same age-grade.
“It’s an evidence-based, game-led approach,” said Simon Kemp, the RFU’s medical services director. “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.
“[The laws] 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.”
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Meanwhile, the legal tackle height for under-15 to under-18 age-groups will be lowered from the line of the shoulders to the line of the armpit.
This brings it into line with the rules for those playing full-contact rugby between under-9 and under-14 levels in a bid to ease the transition of players that have endured seasons disrupted by Covid 19.
“This is an exciting and important piece of work,” said John Lawn, the RFU’s head of game development.
“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.”