Dr Simon Kemp, RFU Medical Services Director explains the rationale and research behind the change HERE(opens in a new tab)
To support player welfare, the RFU Council agreed on Monday 16th January to lower the height of the tackle across the community game from 1st July 2023.
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.
The changes will apply across the community game (clubs, schools, colleges and universities) at both age-grade and adult levels – National One and below in the men’s game and Championship One and below in the women’s game.
Programmes to support players, coaches and match officials, including detailed law application guidelines are being developed to ensure players, match officials and volunteers will be ready for next season.
Speaking about the law change to be implemented in season 2023/24, RFU President Nigel Gillingham said:
“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.”
Reduced tackle height for all community rugby:
- Tackles must be made at the line of the waist, targeting the belly area, and below.
- The aim is to put players’ heads in the safest possible place by defining in law where the line of the tackle may start.
A greater focus on the actions of the ball carrier:
- Ball carriers will be encouraged to follow the principle that rugby is a game of evasion, and they should 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.
- Match officials will focus on the actions of the ball carrier as well as the tackler when head contact occurs.
Player welfare remains at the heart of all decision-making. By making the decision now, the RFU Council has demonstrated its continued commitment to player welfare and recognised the importance of giving coaches, match officials and players time to prepare.
Based on extensive research and evaluations of law changes in England, South Africa, France and New Zealand, evidence demonstrates that a waist height tackle or below is the optimal height to provide a meaningful reduction in the height of contact on the ball carrier, a reduction in the risk of contact with the ball carrier’s head and a reduction in the risk of contact for the tackler’s head. A lower tackle height is also associated with a reduction in the magnitude of head impacts, a key target for reduction.
France, which introduced similar changes in its domestic game in 2019, reported a 63% reduction in head-on-head contacts. They also reported this move has led to a more fluid game with reduced levels of kicking, increased passing, offloads and line breaks.
The process of developing law variations and the law application guidelines is well underway. It is anticipated that new laws will be in place in the next few weeks. They will come into force from 1 July 2023.
A range of training and support will be put in place for players, coaches and match officials. This will include face-to-face workshops, webinars, e-learning and video guidance. Training will be rolled out from the spring, through the summer and into next season.
We understand this is a significant change and the game will have questions around the detail of the new law variation, what it means for coaches and players and how the tackle will be refereed during different phases of the game, for example close to the goal line versus counter attacks in open play.
Detailed FAQs and training materials will be provided over the coming weeks to give clarity for the game. This is the first in a series of communications to give the game sufficient notice of the law changes being made.