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'Beginning of the end' - Shock RFU tackle change rocks English rugby

By Ian Cameron
Oxford's Andrew Durutalo (left) is tackled by Cambridge's Zac Bischoff during the men's varsity match at Mattioli Woods Welford Road Stadium last year (Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

There has been a largely negative reaction to the Rugby Football Union’s decision to change the tackle height to the waistline in amateur rugby in England – one of the most radical changes to the amateur game ever made in the history of the sport.

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From 1 July 2023, all players at age grade and adult amateur level in England will be required to tackle from the waistline or lower.

The chief concern for many is that arguably rugby’s most fundamental defining characteristic – its physicality – is being drastically denuded.

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Others questioned if the move would actually reduce instances of concussion, which the RFU believe it will.

Former Wales prop Lee Jarvis wrote: “100 per cent for player safety BUT if you lower the tackle to waist or below, then you are going to get even more injuries/concussions with knees to face/head. Players need to have a tackle choice to protect themselves as well?”

Rugby writer Sam Peters, a vocal concussion reduction advocate, appeared sceptical of the decision: “I understand the RFU has voted to implement the below waist tackle trial from start of next season. All forms of game from National One and below. No peer reviewed evidence to explain reasoning for decision. Previous similar trial (below nipple) increased concussion frequency.”

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Some fear that it has created a two tier game in which players are effectively playing two very different sports, thus hindering the development of amateur players into the professional ranks.

The Eggchasers Podcast wrote: “RFU moving tackle height to waist from next season from level 3 down: They’ve just created 2 different sports. For “player welfare”? Those affected are AMATEUR, not physical mutants as in pros, engaging voluntarily as they might horse riding, sky diving or skiing. Farcical.”

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One Leicester Tigers fan even called for a protest over the new Laws: “Football fans stopped the super league by organised protest. These changes from the RFU fundamentally threaten rugby overall and as a community game. Those that attend six nations matches are largely from the community game. Time for a protest?”

Not all the reaction was negative. World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin rowed in behind the decision in a statement: “In line with our six-point plan to make rugby the most progressive sport on player welfare, last year World Rugby opened discussions with unions about lowering the tackle height in the community game around the globe.

“At those meetings unions were presented with findings from trials that have taken place in France and South Africa as well as initial data from rugby specific studies using smart mouthguard.

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“Discussions with unions have progressed well and formal proposals to be applied around the world are expected to be presented to our Executive Board in March. We welcome the RFU taking these proactive steps, rugby will never stand still when it comes to player welfare and this is a prime example of the sport, once again, putting our words into action.”

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