USA Rugby to implement World Rugby Global Law Variation on Tackle Height starting September 1, 2024

Wed, Apr 10, 2024, 8:47 PM
by Calder Cahill.

Following World Rugby’s recommendations on improving safety and enhancing the rugby experience, USA Rugby will implement the opt-in Global Law Variation that will see the legal height of tackles in community rugby lowered to below the sternum for the 2024-25 membership year.

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 law variation follows more than six years of research and trials of lower tackle heights, where rugby unions including France, England, New Zealand, South Africa, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Australia have all implemented the opt-in variations across their levels of community rugby. Most nations have experienced a relatively seamless transition to the new Laws, supporting a pathway for USA Rugby to follow.

Key Takeaways:
  • The Global Law Variation chosen to be implemented by USA Rugby is a minimal change from the current Law.
  • USA Rugby is focused on extended lead time for the community to implement ahead of the 2024-25 Membership Season on September 1.
  • Almost 3,000 USA Rugby members participated in a tackle height survey, with the large majority voting in favor of the Law change.
  • Midwest Rugby Union to hold an expedited trial with Senior Club friendlies this Spring.

Following the international trials in 2023, USA Rugby convened a Tackle Height Study group with members representing all USA Rugby communities including Youth & High School, College, and Senior Club. The Group conducted a survey across USA Rugby membership, receiving almost 3,000 replies, where the majority voted in favor of the Law change. The Group presented a firm recommendation to opt-in to World Rugby’s trial.

USA Rugby CEO, Bill Goren said on the implementation, “We are confident in the extensive work that has been done on this front, by both World Rugby, our fellow unions and stakeholders in the American community. As a contact sport, safety remains at the forefront of our priorities, so we are pleased to know these Law Variations will support a better and safer game. We understand there may be some adaptation required with the new changes, so we’ve provided an extended lead time for proper education and implementation ahead of the new membership year this September.”

The USA Rugby Board of Directors have reviewed and approved an implementation plan that was influenced by other nations who have already adopted the variations. Firstly, an expedited domestic regional trial, at Senior Club level only, will be carried out at the request of the Midwest Rugby Union. The Midwest has requested to use spring friendlies to test the variations before full implementation in their competitive matches this Fall.

Education and implementation resources will be provided over the coming months for players, coaches and match officials, including Law documentation to be built into the USA Rugby Game Management Guidelines, and webinars and e-Learning modules provided via the USA Rugby Learning Center. Q&A sessions with expert coaches and referees will also be available. Each of the above will be communicated to all registered coaches, administrators and match officials on a monthly basis beginning in May.

The Law variations to be trialed in the Midwest will be sent to all players, coaches and match officials on April 15, and will consist of a similar combination as those used in Ireland and New Zealand. Firstly, dangerous tackling will be deemed to include, but not be limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the base of the sternum. Secondly, the ball carrier’s height will not be directly penalizable unless considered dangerous (e.g. leading with the head). Instead, the referee will take the ball carrier’s height into account when considering a sanction against a tackle made above the sternum.

In addition, wording of the new Laws to be trialed specifically refer to the variation applying in open field play, which is designed to exclude ‘pick and drive’ scenarios around the ruck and maul, and especially around the try line where the ball-carrier’s height is usually low by design. Collisions in this aspect of the game are not at high speed and are rarely dangerous, so the new variations will not apply. World Rugby’s Head Contact protocol remains in place for all instances of head contact in any scenario.

USA Rugby will collate feedback on the Midwest Rugby Union trial before settling on the final combination of variations and exact language to be used in the full implementation. This will be then released on July 1, giving players, coaches and referees certainty on the Laws a full two months before implementation.

The road to implementation will continue to be managed through four phases already in action:

  • USA Rugby Tackle Height Study Group convened, with members representing all USA Rugby communities. Study Group members include Raven Jones (Chair, non-voting), Kate Zackary (International Athlete), Megan Braun (Senior Club), Pete Smith (College), Drew Hannaman (Y&HS), Mark Sakr (Medical Committee), John Bridges (Referees and Laws Committee).
  • A survey of USA Rugby membership earned almost 3,000 responses, supporting the USA Rugby Tackle Height Study Group recommendations which were then submitted to the USA Rugby Board.

PHASE 2: OCTOBER 2023 - MARCH 2024
  • USA Rugby met with officials from Rugby Canada, World Rugby, England Rugby and Rugby Americas North to obtain best practice advice from ongoing trials in other nations and encourage regional alignment.
  • Progress was reported to the RAN Player Welfare Working Group to encourage potential consistency of application across RAN tournaments and the possibility of combined resources.
  • From there an implementation plan summary was developed in late March 2024, and was presented to and approved by the USA Rugby Board.


  • Expedited preliminary Trial, at Senior Club level only, within the Midwest from April 15 to June 15, as requested of USA Rugby by the Midwest Rugby Union. The Midwest wishes to use Spring friendlies to test the variations before full implementation in their competitive matches in the Fall.
  • Initial education documentation to be released April 15 for the first trial match weekend of April 20.
  • Video guidance to be released via email to coaches / referees in the Midwest, featuring experts who have implemented Tackle Height variations. Post-surveys with players, coaches and officials expected in June for feedback on implementation.


  • USA Rugby will review feedback from Midwest survey at the end June, with final documentation to be released July 1 – giving players, coaches and referees certainty on the Laws two months before implementation.
  • Pre-recorded Video for both coaches and match officials released by mid-July via the USA Rugby Learning Center. An open period for questions will be submitted, leading to follow-up videos with responses released in early August.
  • Tackle height implementation in all USA Rugby-sanctioned community competitions starting at the beginning of the 2024-25 membership year, September 1.