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Borthwick has his say on controversial RFU waist high tackle limit

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Inpho via Six Nations)

Steve Borthwick has had his say on the controversial RFU law change that has split the grassroots game in England. It was last Thursday when it became public that from next season tackling in the community game up as far as National One level will be restricted to waist height, a radical plan that has caused heated debate.

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Those coming down against the idea fear it will drive multiple players from the sport as they are concerned that the alteration will be too severe a change to embrace. Those in favour of the revamp, though, claim that safety is paramount.

It was the latter of this divide that new England boss Borthwick came out in support of when quizzed on proposed law change that will come into effect for the 2023/24 season. “There are more details to come, that is a key element here,” he began. “There are more details to come and a full understanding of that.

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“The main thing is that globally we are trying to keep that physical intensity of the game that we all love at its very core and make it safe for generations. That is the main thing.

“Now whether this initiative is right, whether it is going to be tweaked or changed because we are going to learn and we are going to get better and we are going to continue to try and make the game safe, that is going to be the main priority and I don’t think anybody in the room is going to disagree with that.

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“We would all agree we want to make sure this game is protected for the generations to come. So the main thing I would like to focus on is that people are trying to find solutions and with the England team, we are going to make sure we coach players to tackle lower. Do I think it will change every habit straight away? No, absolutely not but we are going to be trying, we are going to be learning as we go.”

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A major part of the grassroots outcry has been that the proposed law change won’t suit tall players. Borthwick was one of them when he played, a 6ft 5in England second row who did the hard yards in the engine room. Surely he can understand the reservations that are being expressed even though he is now an RFU employee after deciding last month to leave Leicester for the England job?

“I understand that. There are elements of the community game that have challenges, but there are growth areas of this game. Post this covid period we are seeing numbers in the junior game increasing. I see that. I was there at the minis Sunday morning at -4 or whatever the temperature was shivering away.

“I was seeing hundreds of other kids running around on the only pitch that wasn’t frozen because it was a 3G, an artificial surface that was funded by the RFU. They were just desperate to play rugby and have a good time. We have seen numbers in the women’s game increasing and we have seen the incredible success of the Red Roses which has been tremendous.

“But there are some areas of the community game, particularly on the adult male side, where we do want numbers to increase, we do want people to come back into the game. So there is a long term process to keep filtering those players to come through to make sure they become adult players and there is trying to get people back into the game and keep them in the game.

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“Do I think that initiatives to ensure we protect the essence of this game and make it safe? Am I supportive of initiatives that have that intent? Yes, I am. You try things and if needs to change, you tweak them and change them and learn as we go.”

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