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The French connection

From Bod’s hat-trick to Sexton’s drop-goal, no opponent has defined this Irish rugby century quite like France

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RFU's tackle height change is extraordinarily naive - Andy Goode

By Andy Goode
Twickenham Stadium /Press Association

The RFU’s move to lower the tackle height across the community game is a PR disaster and has the potential to be catastrophic for the sport.

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The Council may have unanimously voted the change in but I haven’t heard from any players that it will affect who have been consulted on the matter and it has been extremely poorly communicated.

There’s no doubt it will end the careers of a lot of amateur players, who simply can’t adjust to what the law variations require of them, and I think it’ll have a devastating effect on participation figures.

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Rugby is struggling in England as it is and clubs up and down the country have struggled to get players back in the aftermath of the pandemic so this news is likely to provide another blow to them.

I’ve got mates that play at local rugby clubs who are genuinely saying they aren’t going to play the game any more in response to this news and I don’t think that’s just hot air, I really think this is so radical that it could kill the sport.

RFU flag generic stock image
(Photo by Alex Davidson – RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Of course, player safety is paramount and the sport has been attempting to make positive changes in recent years but this is an alteration that would fundamentally alter the game that we all love. It would be a completely different sport.

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I could understand if the tackle height was lowered to nipple level but making it waist height or below is such a drastic change that it’s hard to see how people are supposed to adjust and I don’t know how you’ll be able to defend certain situations any more.

The fact that this is being brought in at National One and below but not in the Premiership and Championship is a huge problem as well. Rugby has enough problems without making itself a completely different sport at the elite level to the amateur level.

There were understandable complaints that the England team were completely disconnected from fans under Eddie Jones and now they’re going to be playing a different game to the supporters who are watching them.

Regardless of what sport you’re talking about, it’s vital that people young and old can watch their heroes playing the same game they do.

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On top of that, how on earth is a team supposed to get promoted from National One and then adjust to playing a completely different way in the league above or how is a promising young player supposed to learn his trade at a top club and then go out on loan and play the game according to such drastically different laws?

Spare a thought for referees too. It’s hard to see why anyone would want to become a referee in the professional or amateur game as it is but I’m sure this will make their job harder.

Barnes referee criticism
(Photo by Adam Davy/PA Images via Getty Images)

We know there are lawsuits going on in the background and it’s fair to ask whether this move by the RFU is a reactive one because of the pressure they are coming under.

However, it is the way this seismic change has been communicated that is most shocking. You can’t just put a press release out and expect everyone to just crack on with things and if the RFU is going to provide clarity and detailed guidelines soon, why can’t they do that now.

If you’re going to implement such a significant change, the least you can do is be armed with all of the relevant information for people at the time of the announcement and have a clear strategy for getting the important points across and attempting to get everyone on board.

That doesn’t seem to be the case at all and, as a result, the move looks like a knee-jerk reaction even if it has been years in the planning.

The RFU’s press release says the decision is “based on extensive research and evaluations of law changes” but it doesn’t detail any of the findings or provide links to any reports.

The only concrete statistic it states is that there was a 63 per cent reduction in head-on-head contacts when a similar alteration happened in France in 2019 but there were a number of differences between that and what the RFU is planning to do.

Plus, a host of current players have voiced concerns about a potential rise in incidents caused by knee-on-head contacts, for example, so a governing body should be providing figures to reassure them that they aren’t going to increase.

I know a number of different studies have been carried out in various countries and competitions across the world but we need to know which ones the RFU is basing their decision on, see the evidence and the sample sizes and hear from them about the reasoning behind it.

RFU

To think that that they can just make a decision like this that affects so many people, seemingly without consulting them, and not get a backlash is extraordinarily naïve.

The RFU isn’t known for having a joined-up approach to things but surely anyone with any sort of experience in PR or communications could have told them that this wasn’t going to go down well if they handled it like this.

Over 40,000 people have already signed a petition against the move and the opposition to it isn’t just going to go away.

This is going to rumble on and the RFU would be wise to call an emergency council meeting and enlist the help of a PR company to communicate more effectively before telling the thousands of players up and down the country that this affects that they have listened.

That would be a start and then perhaps all stakeholders could be involved in a transparent process of working out how we make the game we love safer, whilst not altering it so radically that it alienates a large number of people and causes participation to fall further.

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