World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper, speaking to Ben Coles of the Daily Telegraph, has asked referees to show more red and yellow cards in a continued effort to stop dangerous tackles.
According to the latest RFU data, the number of reported concussions has risen in each of the last seven years. This year four players have been forced to retire as a result of concussion.
During November a series of incidents involving high-profile players have gone unpunished. England co-captain Owen Farrell performed a no-arms tackle, South Africa skipper Siya Kolisi performed a reverse headbutt and Australia’s Samu Kerevi took out Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny with no arms after the ball had been cleared, all of which came without sanction.
“The cards are there to change behaviour,” Gosper explained. “They only continue to be a problem if behaviour does not change. The only way you can get player behaviour to change is to sanction with red cards and actually, we have probably not seen enough of it.
“I would say in many ways we have probably not been hard enough. There have probably not been as many yellow cards as we would like, and maybe not even as many red cards as we would like. We have not had the behaviour change that we are seeking yet, so we have to continue in that vein.
“The whole tackle law is to protect the ball carrier and the tackler, in fact mostly the tackler, given that two thirds of concussions occur to that player rather than the one carrying the ball.
“Dropping the height of the tackle is due to the statistics showing us that if the player is bent at the waist as they tackle, they are four times less likely to suffer a concussion. Of course when you drop the height of the tackle, you are also less likely to concuss the ball carrier.”
Gosper added that World Rugby were aware the new directives aimed at reducing head injuries had not produced perfect results.
“We recognise that there are consistencies, and over time that will sort itself out. We are working to rectify them. We cannot stand there with our hands up and say we get it right every time,” Gosper said.
“Our job is to keep insisting on the objectives that we have for player welfare reasons. After the first weekend of November we had meetings with the referees and coaches to remind them what we are looking for in this area to get that consistency everyone wants to see.”
Gosper also shut down the possibility of adding an extra card specifically for high tackle offences, which would avoid teams losing a player, and offered support for the men in charge on the pitch.
“It is not an easy job being a referee and they are under a lot of pressure,” he added. “We give them our full support. Our job is to make them feel comfortable with what we want them to do with the tackle area.”
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