In arguably the largest most shocking law change of recent times, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced that from 1st July 2023, it will now be illegal to tackle above the waist.
There have been plenty of law changes and protocols brought in over the past few years to help reduce head injuries and concussions. The long-term effects of head injuries have come to light recently, with many former professional players claiming to have mental challenges as they get older. This news also comes about on the same day as 55 amateur players have hired lawyers in a potential lawsuit against the sports governing bodies.
The new law to reduce tackles to waist height and below will come into effect for both age-grade and amateur senior levels.
The RFU have said: “Tackles must be made at the line of the waist and below” with an aim to “put players’ heads in the safest possible place by defining in law where the line of the tackle may start.”
An RFU statement has read: “Designed to improve player safety and informed by data, this change aims to reduce head impact exposure and concussion risk in the tackle for both the ball carrier and tackler. Evidence from studies has consistently demonstrated that higher contact on the ball carrier and closer proximity of the ball carrier and tacklers’ heads are associated with larger head impacts (as measured by smart mouthguards) and an increased risk of concussion.
“Lowering the height of the tackle and encouraging the tackler to bend more at the waist will minimise the risk of this occurring while maintaining the tackle as an integral part of the game.
“The RFU Council’s unanimous vote will result in law variations from next season, 2023/24, with the tackle height being set at waist height or below.
“Ball carriers will also be encouraged to follow the principle of evasion, which is a mainstay of the game, to avoid late dipping and thereby avoid creating a situation where a bent tackler may be put at increased risk of head-on-head contact with the ball carrier through a late or sudden change in body height of the ball carrier.”
Speaking on the law changes, RFU President Nigel Gillingham has said: “Players’ welfare must always be at the centre of decisions we make about how we play the game of rugby. Evidence from our own research and from around the world clearly shows that lowering the tackle height will reduce head impact exposure and the risk of concussion.
“The RFU Council is able to influence how the game is played at the community level in this country and, therefore, has unanimously supported the decision to lower the tackle height to waist level. The tackle will remain the primary method of stopping the ball carrier using safe techniques that are taught from an early age.
“While this change will apply to matches in the community game in England, the RFU will continue its work to reduce head impacts in contact training in both the community and elite games and be supportive of any law changes that World Rugby proposes for matches at the elite level that will further reduce head impact exposure.”
This change in law will split the rugby community no shadow of a doubt. Many parents and partners, in particular, will welcome the news of safety being taken more carefully. While others will be furious that the game is changing too much, and becoming too soft.
As kids we’re taught to tackle low and hard, now that message seems to be more important than ever.