World Rugby look to enhance community rugby experience with tackle height global trial

World Rugby’s Executive Board has recommended that Unions take part in an opt-in global trial of lowering the tackle height in the community game to below the sternum (or belly).

If approved by the World Rugby Council in May, national unions will have the ability to consult with their communities regarding an opt-in to a trial that will be backed by a comprehensive roadmap of education and resources that will support its implementation locally at all grassroots levels of the game. Unions will also be encouraged to undergo formal research into the impact of the intervention.

The USA Rugby Referees & Laws Committee will review all materials, if and when available, and subsequently provide a recommendation to the Board of Directors who will determine USA Rugby's level of participation should the World Rugby Council approve the opt-in trial in May.

The move follows extensive analysis and consultation with unions and reflects the international federation’s core mission of a global sport for all, seeking to enhance the experience for players in order to keep building engagement across the globe. Supporting a safer more enjoyable game.

World Rugby-endorsed pilot trials of lowered tackle heights have been conducted since 2019 in the community game in France, South Africa, Georgia and Fiji. These trials have been proven to deliver positive advancements in terms of player safety – reducing the number of head impacts and concussions - and the overall game experience – supporting increased ball in flow. The changes have helped to increase player participation.

Change driven by emerging science and evidence

In line with its six-point plan to make the sport the most progressive in the world on player welfare, World Rugby continues to be guided by science and research as part of a relentless focus on reducing injury risk via education, sanction and law change. A reduction in the legal tackle height to the sternum demonstrates increased safety outcomes while retaining the unique characteristics of the game.

Rigorous independent research shows that the tackle is responsible for 74 per cent of all concussions. Reducing the height of the tackle protects both players. The ball carrier is protected directly because head contact leading to injury can be significantly reduced, while the tackler is protected because their head will be in what is known to be a safer proximity with the ball carrier’s torso/upper body. Tackles where the tackler’s head is in proximity to the ball carrier’s body above the sternum are more than four times more likely to result in a head injury, and so bringing tackle height down will benefit both players.

In light of compelling evidence, including research using the latest smart mouthguard technology, World Rugby is recommending the legal tackle height be lowered on an opt-in global trial basis. Several unions have already announced their intention to support it. Supporting national unions with implementation via Game On Global If approved by Council, the tackle height guidance, including comprehensive education tools, will be built into the existing Game On Global program, which provides unions with a suite of modified contact law variations for the community game. It also complements a broadening of non-contact game. World Rugby believes that this ‘rugby for everyone’ package is essential to rugby’s future growth, prosperity and sustained appeal.

‘Rugby for everyone’ – tackle height action plan through to World Rugby Council in May
  • World Rugby will continue to consult with unions on lower tackle height implementation and guidance around key tackle elements, including double tackles and tackling near the try line
  • Guidance will be provided and linked to Game On Global, World Rugby’s Community Game modified law variations and Tackle Ready the best practise tackling resource, both of which are already available to unions
  • Implementation would be approved on the proviso that tackle technique education is undertaken by respective unions for players, coaches, match officials and disciplinary personnel
  • World Rugby will promote a new non-contact game and other modified contact games
  • World Rugby will continue to seek and listen to feedback from everyone who loves the game

World Rugby Chairman, Sir Bill Beaumont, said: “It is important that we continue to explore ways that we can make our game as enjoyable and safe to play as possible. The community game is the lifeblood of our sport, representing 99 per cent of our participants, and the proposed tackle height adjustment has already delivered positive game shape and playing experience outcomes – this is essential to the sport’s future. The evidence we have, from France in particular, shows that not only does reducing the tackle height make the game safer but it increases numbers playing as well. That has to be the aim for everyone involved in our game.”

World Rugby Chief Executive Officer Alan Gilpin added: “If our sport is to continue to grow, we must ensure that we are accessible and relevant to more people around the world. That means never standing still when it comes to advancing player welfare and experience. With compelling emerging evidence showing that a lower legal tackle height means a lower head injury risk, as well as more people playing, we are compelled to act.

“Change can be difficult. We appreciate that there will be sections of the community game who will question this move, but we must not lose sight of the fact that such a change has the ability to enhance enjoyment, reassure parents and welcome many new participants to the sport we all love.

“While this is a community rugby initiative, we would be open to discussions with unions who may wish to explore the possibility of a future closed trial at the elite level which would broaden research data. It must be noted that the elite and community environments are very different, they are essentially different playing experiences and sports.”

The recommendation was endorsed by World Rugby’s Community Rugby Committee and follows consideration by the national union development directors group in October 2022.

Research

Initial data from the Otago Community Head Impact Detection Study (ORCHID) was presented to the 2022 World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium by Prof Melanie Bussey of the University of Otago (ORCHD). The session titled “medical” can be viewed in full here. The first papers from this study are currently in peer review and are expected to be published this Summer

  • World Rugby regularly publishes injury surveillance data for both the elite and community games which can be accessed here
  • The peer reviewed study resulting from trials lowering the tackle height in South Africa can be found here

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