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RFU confirm waist high tackling for amateur rugby across England

By Ian Cameron
(Photo by Alex Davidson - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) have confirmed that they will lower tackle height to the waist in amateur rugby across England from next season onwards.

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On Monday the RFU Council agreed to lower the height of the tackle across the community game from 1 July 2023. The radical change will come in at both age grade and adult 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.”

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A statement reads: “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.”

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RFU President Nigel Gillingham said of the law change that comes in next season: “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.”

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According to the RFU, in France, which introduced similar changes in its domestic game in 2019, reported a 63 per cent reduction in head-on-head contacts, leading to “a more fluid game with reduced levels of kicking, increased passing, offloads and line breaks.”

The union say that match official will be encouraged to focus on the actions of the ball carrier as well as the tackler when head contact occurs.

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