England: Tackle height lowered to reduce concussions in community rugby

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has announced that the legal tackle height will be lowered to the waist across English community rugby from next season.

The decision has been unanimously approved by RFU Council members in a bold attempt to support player welfare, notably reducing head impact exposure.

It is set to apply across the community game in England – clubs, schools, colleges and universities at both age-grade and adult levels – covering the National One division and below in the men’s game and Championship One and below in the women’s game.

Reduce concussion risk

“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,” the RFU said.

“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.

“Tackles must be made at the line of the waist 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.

“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.”

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-based decision

“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.”

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The radical move, which is set to come into effect from July 1 this year, was welcomed by World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin.

“In line with our six-point plan to make rugby the most progressive sport on player welfare, last year World Rugby opened discussions with unions about lowering the tackle height in the community game around the globe,” he said.

“We welcome the RFU taking these proactive steps.

“Rugby will never stand still when it comes to player welfare and this is a prime example of the sport, once again, putting our words into action.”