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World Rugby statement: 'No immediate plan to implement blanket elite game tackle height reduction'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

World Rugby have insisted there are no immediate plans to lower the legal tackle height in elite rugby around the globe. An interview published by the UK Telegraph suggested that such a change was potentially in the pipeline, but it has now been clarified that no immediate change is imminent.

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World Rugby told RugbyPass in a statement: “World Rugby is committed to the highest standards of welfare for participants at all levels.

“While lowered tackle height is currently being explored with unions at the community level, as World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin explained, there are no immediate plans to implement blanket tackle height reductions in the elite level of the game as outlined. We will, however, never stand still when it comes to the safety and well-being of all participants.”

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Tackle height has been a major debate this past week ever since the RFU revealed it will reduce the tackle height to the waist for its community game in England from the summer of 2023 onwards. In his Telegraph interview, Gilpin backed the RFU initiative but suggested any potential change in the elite game would be different if it ever happened.

“Yes, we are looking to make sure that we are implementing a lower tackle height across all parts of the game. How that is actually implemented is slightly different in the community game to the elite game,” he said.

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“You are in a slightly different environment, for a number of reasons, in the elite part of the game, particularly at an international level, because the level of – for example – medical provision, diagnostic ability etc, is very different.We obviously have TMO, HIA, the ability for immediate pitch-side care in all of elite level rugby that you don’t have in the community game. We have got to recognise that they’re not the same sport.”

With regard to what the RFU have planned for its community game from the 2023/24 season onwards, Gilpin added: “The RFU obviously is in the process of implementing some changes around tackle height that we support. Because we know, from all of the research and science and medicine, that lowering the tackle height is a really important part of making the game safer.

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“There is a lot of work to do to educate people. But we have got to, as a sport, try to find that really difficult but hugely-important balance between safety but making the game entertaining to watch. It’s not binary. It’s not one or the other. It’s how do we make the game safer and a better spectacle to watch and a better game to play? It’s tough because it’s a really, really complex message to deliver. On one level, it’s very simple.

“We know from all the research that has been done and is incredibly comprehensive, you are four-and-a-half times more likely to sustain a head injury when you tackle from an upright position than when the tackler is bent at the waist.

“We need to get players tackling lower at every part of the game. Obviously, there is an elite part of the game where we are doing a huge amount of work and we have used sanctions, and red cards in particular, trying to drive changes in behaviour.

“When you look at the community game, it’s challenging to roll that out on a global basis. It requires significant buy-in from the game in different parts of the world. You will always have the traditionalists, I guess, who understandably say, ‘Stop tweaking things and don’t change too much, because we’re really concerned about losing the inherent fabric of the sport’ – and we all absolutely get that.

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“At the same time, we have got to make sure that we are attracting people to the sport that is safe to play – or is as safe to play as a sport that’s a contact one can be. There is always work to do in implementing change and how you can consult around change and how you communicate and educate around change.

“But the key message is let’s get the tackle height lower at every level of the game because that will reduce – absolutely reduce- the number of head injuries that we see in rugby. And that’s really important if, again, we’re going to win the battle for the hearts and minds of not just the young people we want to play the game, boys and girls, but the mums and dads who may be concerned about injuries in rugby.

“So, we have got a responsibility from a World Rugby perspective, to work hard with our member federations around the world. That communication challenge is tougher in places where rugby’s got a long heritage and history and is played in significant numbers, and that’s what the RFU is experiencing in this last week or so.”

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