World Rugby say that controversial waist height tackling is one of six law trials that has been ‘endorsed’ at the second World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium in Paris this week.

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Critics of this particular law change fear it could denude rugby union’s intrinsic physicality, but World Rugby’s statement on the matter suggests they are keen on – at the very least – trialling it further.

Waist height tackling is one of six law changes that are being considered, but it is by far the most controversial.

The law changes are currently being trialled in competitions around the world, and according to World Rugby: “positive initial player, coach and referee feedback, combined with outcome monitoring has endorsed the approach.”

A statement from the body reads: “The latest data determines an increase of ball in play time by 50 per cent since Rugby World Cup 1987 to approximately 35 minutes at Rugby World Cup 2019 (or 49 per cent of all match time). This environment has given rise to a 252 per cent increase in tackles over the same period with international matches averaging 176 tackles.

“With the tackle responsible for 50 per cent of all injuries and 76 per cent of all concussions, the international federation – in full collaboration with unions, players and competition owners – devised a package of trials aimed at reducing the frequency and nature of the contact area, opening-up space and reducing the risk of concussion.”

WAIST HEIGHT TACKLE:

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France and Fiji are running trials to reduce the tackle height to the waist at community level with the rationale of lowering the risk of head injuries to both the tackler and tackled player. Initial feedback from the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) is positive, suggesting a more expansive game in addition to compelling player welfare benefits as outlined by the French Rugby Federation:

  • Threefold reduction in match injuries so far
  • 60 per cent decrease in head impacts
  • 31 per cent increase in line breaks
  • 67 per cent decrease in kicks
  • Significant reduction in winning margins

50:22 KICK, GOAL-LINE DROP-OUT, INFRINGEMENT ACCUMULATION:

Australia’s National Rugby Championship was the backdrop for a trial of the package of 50:22 kick, goal-line drop-out and infringement limit trials, with initial positive feedback from players, coaches, referees and fans.

  • 50:22: Initial feedback suggests a positive impact regarding creating space on the field
  • The goal-line drop-out for the ball being held up over the line has significantly reduced time taken versus a scrum (one minute 34 second average in 2018 to 30 seconds in 2019).
  • The infringement accumulation has had a positive impact on player and team behaviour, promoting quicker ball.

TACKLE TECHNIQUE WARNING:

Successfully trialled at the World Rugby U20 Championship for the last two years, delivering the incidence of concussion by more than 50 per cent, the tackle technique warning is operational as a trial in France’s Top 14 and Pro D2 and Super Rugby with coach feedback on player technique (the following from Ligue Nationale de Rugby /FFR):

  • Strong buy-in and approval rating from teams
  • Collaborative dialogue process shaping positive player behaviour

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby’s mission is to make the game as simple, safe and enjoyable to play as possible – this is achieved through continual evidence-based evaluation of playing trends.

“The early feedback from these ongoing trials is that they are having a positive impact, enhancing game spectacle and player welfare. Importantly, the feedback from participants appears to be good. We now look forward to the detailed final review at the end of the respective competitions.”

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The World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium brings together game administrators, competition owners, coaches, referees, players, media and medical staff to consider the latest global injury data and trends, examine strategies to reduce injuries and enhance the spectacle for all.

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