Rugby Australia has confirmed its commitment to player safety by announcing a two-year trial to lower the legal tackle height, shifting it from the shoulder line to below the sternum. The move which is set to commence in February 2024 across premier grades, school, and pathway competitions, aims to mitigate the risk of concussions.
The decision follows extensive global studies and trials, with countries like France and New Zealand leading the way in tackling technique adjustments. World Rugby’s research underscores the importance of this shift, revealing a more than fourfold increase in the risk of concussion when the tackler’s head is above the ball carrier’s sternum.
The trial will not encompass Super Rugby and international competitions but will be a significant step in reshaping the approach to tackling at various levels of the game. Match officials will play a pivotal role in enforcing the lower tackle height, placing greater emphasis on the ball carrier’s responsibility to engage in a safer tackle and avoid dangerous positions.
Rugby Australia’s Chief Executive, Phil Waugh, emphasized the commitment to addressing safety concerns within the sport.
“Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game. While it’s impossible to eliminate all risk, promoting safer tackle techniques and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will undoubtedly lead to a safer game.” Waugh said.
Acknowledging that an adjustment period may be necessary, Waugh urged patience and respect among players, coaches, and officials. He referenced the French trial, where an initial increase in penalties was observed, followed by a significant drop as players and officials adapted to the new measures.
“This is firmly in the best interests of the game, however there may be an adjustment period for players and match officials, and I would ask for patience and respect between all parties as we embark on this journey.
“In the French trial, they saw a significant increase in penalties in the first year of the trial, followed by a substantial drop in those numbers over the next two years as players and officials adjusted to the new measures.” The former Wallaby backrow said.
The two-year trial aligns with Rugby Australia’s endorsement of World Rugby’s global research initiative, signifying a collaborative effort to enhance player welfare.
Michael Procajlo, Rugby Australia’s General Manager of Community Rugby, emphasized the importance of ongoing training and education.
“We will roll out additional face-to-face coach education sessions, an eLearning course, game management guidelines, webinars, and online resources to assist with the change.” Procajlo said.
Procajlo also highlighted World Rugby’s identification of three risk zones for tackling, emphasizing the torso from the sternum to the hips as the safest zone. The trial aims to reduce the risk associated with tackles above the sternum line, where head-on-head or head-on-shoulder contact is more likely.
“Statistically, there is a little more risk once the tackle drops below the hips – hence it becomes amber. However, the greatest risk is present when tackles go above the sternum line and there is a higher risk of head-on-head or head-on-shoulder contact.
“Training and education will remain a strong focus for RA and the State and Territory Unions. We will roll out additional face-to-face coach education sessions and an eLearning course, game management guidelines for coaches and match officials, webinars for clubs and schools, and a range of online resources to assist with the change.
“This trial is just one component of Rugby Australia’s player welfare measures, which include the Blue Card and Concussion Management Procedure, Match Day Safety and Medical Requirements as well as comprehensive education and training for players and coaches on tackle and scrummaging techniques.”
The initiative forms part of Rugby Australia’s broader player welfare measures, including the Blue Card and Concussion Management Procedure, Match Day Safety, and Medical Requirements. Comprehensive education and training programs for players and coaches on tackle and scrummaging techniques complement these measures.