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Rugby tackle height law to be changed in trial to prevent concussion incidents

The Guardian logo The Guardian 25/07/2018 Tom Bryant
High tackle: The law over high tackles will change in the Championship Cup. © Sportsfile via Getty Images The law over high tackles will change in the Championship Cup.

The legal height of a tackle will be lowered next season in a trial aimed at making rugby union safer.

The Rugby Football Union will lower the definition of a high tackle from above the line of the shoulders to above the line of the armpit in a move to be tested in the Championship Cup.

The hope is that the rule will reduce the frequency of head injuries suffered by both ball carriers and tacklers after the RFU’s most recent research showed concussion had risen for the seventh year in a row and led to 22% of all injuries. The RFU will analyse whether the decision can have a wider impact on the game and will share their research with World Rugby.

The initial proposal had been for the rules to apply to the Championship league season too but clubs vetoed the idea - meaning players and referees will have to work to two different sets of rules.

Josh Hoffman of the Eels appeals for a high tackle during the round three NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ Stadium © Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images Josh Hoffman of the Eels appeals for a high tackle during the round three NRL match between the Parramatta Eels and the Cronulla Sharks at ANZ Stadium Dan Carter of the New Zealand All Blacks is hit by a high tackle by Sekope Kepu of Australia during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. © Steve Bardens - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images Dan Carter of the New Zealand All Blacks is hit by a high tackle by Sekope Kepu of Australia during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final match between New Zealand and Australia at Twickenham Stadium on October 31, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

“The RFU is committed to an evidence-based approach to injury-prevention,” Nigel Melville, the RFU’s professional rugby director said. “We know from our latest professional rugby injury surveillance report that 47% of all match injuries are associated with the tackle and that concussion accounted for 19% of all injuries to the ball carrier and 43% of all injuries to the tackler, highlighting the tackle as the key game event when developing concussion reduction strategies.

“We believe lowering the height of the tackle will benefit both the ball carrier and the tackler. The Championship Cup provides an opportunity for us to assess the impact of lowering the height of the tackle on the elite adult game and will be a critical part of helping us develop game-wide approaches to concussion and injury reduction.”

World Rugby have backed what they have called “an important trial” in the Championship Cup. “The global game is committed to an evidence-based approach to injury prevention,” said Bill Beaumont, chairman of World Rugby. “The outcomes from this trial, coupled with those from the World Rugby U20 Championship and U20 Trophy events, will provide World Rugby with comprehensive data and feedback to inform our continued commitment to further reducing concussion risk in rugby.”

France’s Paul Gabrillagues tackles New Zealand’s Ryan Crotty and is given a yellow card for a high tackle. © REUTERS/Ross Setford France’s Paul Gabrillagues tackles New Zealand’s Ryan Crotty and is given a yellow card for a high tackle. A high tackle on England's Mike Brown © Tim Williams/Action Plus via Getty Images A high tackle on England's Mike Brown

There will be an initial meeting on 5 August for directors of rugby, forwards and backs coaches and a senior player representative from all Championship clubs, as well as all referees and assistant referees to ensure sufficient preparation time ahead of the Championship Cup, which commences on 10 November.

Nick Easter has left Harlequins after 14 years for personal reasons. The forward played 281 games for the club over 12 seasons and was appointed the side’s defence coach following his retirement from playing two years ago. “Harlequins would like to thank Nick for his contribution, innovation and hard work in this role and wish him well in his promising coaching career,” read a club statement.

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