Lower tackle height trial announced for community game next season

Change is designed to cut down on head-to-head collisions and concussions and has been introduced with support from World Rugby

Glasgw Hawks v Currie Chieftains
From next season, games such as this one between Glasgow Hawks and Currie Cheiftains will see players make lower tackles in accordance with a new law trial. Image: © Craig Watson. www.craigwatson.co.uk

PLAYERS at every level in Scottish Rugby from the Premiership down will be required to tackle lower next season in accordance with a new law trial. The change will require tackles to be made below the sternum – the s0-called ‘belly tackle’ – and is aimed at reducing the number of head-to-head collisions and concussions.

Announcing the move this afternoon, a press release from Scottish Rugby explained that the decision to proceed with the trial is in line with a recommendation from World Rugby, and follows a series of online consultation sessions with clubs, schools and referee societies commissioned by Murrayfield’s Club Rugby Board (CRB). Participants in the sessions were questioned afterwards, and there was a clear majority in favour of change.

Eighty per cent agreed with the statement “We need to reduce the level of concussions in our game and see the benefit in trialling a lower tackle height”. By contrast, only six per cent agreed that  “Players know the risks and we like the laws as they are”.

The press release spelled out what the law trial will mean: “Maximum height tackle in initial contact must be below the sternum. The second tackler is still permitted, but the player must make initial contact below the sternum.
“There will be no change to the current laws regarding the ball-carrier, but reckless play will be sanctioned (eg. leading with head) where the ball-carrier put themselves or the defender at risk of a head-on-head contact. There will be no change to the current laws regarding a ‘pick and go’ scenario.”

The semi-professional FOSROC Super Series tournament, as well as the fully professional game played by Edinburgh, Glasgow and the national teams, will not be affected by the new law. But trials in France and South Africa conducted by World Rugby have already found that lowering the tackle height significantly reduces the number of head-to-head collisions and concussions, and there is significant momentum within the global game in favour of measures designed to enhance safety.

SRU vice-president Keith Wallace, who is also CRB chairman, said: “Player welfare is of utmost importance to the representatives of the CRB, and as custodians for the community game, it is vital that we place safety and enjoyment at the heart of the decisions we make.

“We strongly believe reducing the tackle height from next season encompasses both of those matters and will create a more positive, and ultimately safer environment, in which our sport is played. It has been encouraging to see the level of engagement which those in our game met the consultation period with, and their receptiveness to the evidence from World Rugby’s endorsed trials.”

In order to help clubs, players and officials implement the trials, the SRU has created a “Tackle Height Hub” on its website with material to explain the changes. There will also be regional road shows in May and June at which members of the union’s Rugby Development department will deliver educational programmes.

ROAD SHOW DATES:

MAY:

Wed 10 East Region at Gala RFC, 7-8.30pm.

Mon 15 Glasgow North at Scotstoun, 7-8.30pm.

Wed 17 Glasgow North at Hamilton RFC, 7-8.30pm.

Thurs 25 Caledonia Midlands at Stirling County, 7-8.30pm.

Wed 31 Glasgow South at UWS Ayr campus 7-8.30pm.

JUNE:

Mon 5 Caledonia North at Highland RFC 7-8.30pm.

Wed 7 East Heriot’s at RFC 7-8.30pm.

Mon 12 Caledonia North at Aberdeen Sports Village 7-8.30pm.

Wed 14 Glasgow South at Dumfries Saints 7-8.30pm.

Wed 14 East at Currie RFC 7-8.30pm.

Sat 17 Midlands at Mayfield Sports Centre Dundee, 10.30am-noon.

About Stuart Bathgate 1428 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.

17 Comments

  1. Sorry I should have said the reduction in concussion incidents and better evidence of successful offloading was from the experiment in France

  2. This is a welcome initiative that will lead to safer rugby from fewer head contacts and less incidents of concussion and also lead to more attractive rugby with better offloading in the tackle. This was the conclusion of the introduction of lower tackle heights in community rugby – these are the facts. Once accepted in community rugby it will
    be introduced into Pro rugby for the same reasons PLUS reducing legal payouts by Unions / clubs – logical !

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  3. Firstly the last comment/rant by rugbyfan was from someone other than myself who has previously used the sudinym.
    I voiced the reality of the tackle height a few weeks back. It’s impossible for refs to be assisted in their decisions at club level and in most cases the medical assistance is limited.
    Litigation is also a major issue . The recent case of a supposedly malicious bad tackle in woman’s match resulted in a £10 million court case , the award to the injured player will be met by the RFU under the club insurance. Perhaps more importantly the judge said as the league game was at a lower level it was therefore in part a development game therefore the level of force was uncalled for.
    For me this hastens the fact that it’s likely unions will have to draw a line between the pro and amateur game.
    It will also create a need for a transition level ie s6 and it may he the case that those playing pro or s6 can’t suddenly play prem rugby.
    Logic would suggest 7s will be the amateur game side so may be similarly covered
    Safety is clearly an issue but litigation and the optics are perhaps the driving force behind World rugbys direction

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    • I pointed out the dangers of litigation years ago. Also said it would be the threat of that which would eventually force World Rugby to act, and I still think I was right.
      Safety is a huge issue. Brain injuries get loads of publicity and deter parents from encouraging their kids to play rugby. We need to address the first to get round the second

      SRU are following (I’d rather we led) WR suggestions and a number of other unions to what will soon be the norm.
      While very welcome, even these proposals are still a bit of a fudge and need more work/clearer sanction on when the ball carrier should be sanctioned and when not for leading with the head

    • That’s ridiculous. Even if he wanted to Keith doesn’t have the power to bring this in unilaterally. Did you miss the sentence with 80% support from clubs??

  4. I really struggle with this for a few reasons:

    1. This puts huge pressure on referee’s at the weekend, and will make the games, certainly in the short term, incredibly frustrating (stop / start). The sport also takes a firm step to becoming less inclusive, with tall and less mobile players at a significant disadvantage. And rugby was always one of the top sports for having people of all sizes.

    2. The pro game isnt changing, so now we are creating a split between the pro game and amateur. Significant for several reasons – players on the cusp of going pro may play a completely different game to going pro, kids and adults feeling more distanced from the pro game as they play different rules etc.

    3. The often cited lawsuits are from those players who played in a different era (before HIAs and the wider education available now), the game is already fundamentally different in this respect, why change it further. And primarily involves professional players, or those ‘amateur’ players that were playing at the top level prior to 2000 – both of which are not really applicable to the amateur game today.

    4. No one forces anyone to play rugby. We play it because we enjoy it and want to do it. Surely far easier to use a waiver system all.players sign up to at the start of the year. Contact sports have risks, and that is a huge part of what makes it fun.

    5. How big a problem are concussions at the lower levels, where players are lacking the same speed, size and reckless abandon (as most have day jobs and aren’t paid to wreck their bodies for the sport)? The pro game is signficiantly different, and where the main issue of concussions seems to be stemming from, yet the rules are not changing for them. Speaking to a lot of amateur players, yet to find those that are actively concerned or calling for these rule changes.

    6. Sport bas barely recovered from Covid, grassroots still struggling to fulfill fixtures across the UK. Willing to bet a large amount more players will leave the game than join with these rules being implemented. With a sport on its knees, is this really the best we can do to increase involvement?

    Happy to be challeneged on the above, but just feel the sport is on a downward spiral at the moment, with people making the adjustments increasingly out of touch with the people who are the blood of the sport.

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    • Without knowing a lot of the facts regarding head injuries at amateur level I tend to agree with you. How big an issue is concussion at the level we’re talking about and how much is caused by high tackling. Certainly all the amateur rugby I watch is not punctuated by big hits and illegal high tackles. I liken it to the scrum laws which are enforced at this level where in all honesty the scrum at this level is light years away from the scrum at professional level
      How much of this is being driven by the fear of legal actions being taken against the unions by parents and players and how much is safety.
      The club game in general is now so far removed from the professional yet we seem driven by following it. Front row laws, number of replacements etc, are they really the right way to grow our game.

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      • You don’t watch or care about amateur rugby stop fibbing you’re all about the ‘Dodson CoolAid’ you would rather we banned young Scot rugby players so you’re team could hire PED South Africa lads with a Scottish granny

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      • The answer is we really don’t know as the reporting from clubs is rather hit and miss. The difference in pro game is usually TV and doctors on site.

        I’m not sure what games you have been watching but big hits are as much part of the club games I watch as those at pro level. Of course there is a difference in speed and power but everything is relative.

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    • Why would 80% of the clubs consulted on this agree to the move?

      I agree it will be carnage in the first few months. That’s exactly what happened in France. I would also suggest it’s been difficult for players to adapt to high tackle changes and now contact to head – see flurry of red cards at start of this season. It’s what happens with any rule change.

      It’s starting with club players and will come to professional rugby.

      It’s demonstrable that rugby can have detrimental affects in brain health. Willie Stewart has been leading this work in Scotland. Otherwise these steps wouldn’t be made.

      Perhaps you can point out all the pro players here https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-scotland-35559201

      You can’t waive away your rights to health no matter how well meaning that might be. It’s a bit like saying – we don’t think hard hats are required on a building site. Just you sign here if you agree. Yes this isn’t a comparable example as it’s actual legislation. But think about this, how are players who are employed to play being protected in their workplace? What would a risk assessment- a legal requirement for any work activity- say about a game of rugby?

      • I support a below sternum tackle height in open play with raised awareness of need to penalise gross drop in height by ball carrier. 80% support it because in part the questionnaire was effectively “do you agree causing brain damage is bad” yes/no

      • I disagree entirely on the rights to health comment – this will not suddenly prevent injuries. Not rules changing at the ruck where people still charge headfirst and often off their feet into it, knees will still get blown out, shoulders dislocated, bones broken etc. At what point do you just play touch? There is always an element of risk and injury in contact sports.

        The players being employed to play don’t face these changes (generally speaking). The players who don’t get paid, who chose to play, ARE being forced onto these changes. The two aren’t comparable.

        Link on the pro players misses the point. The MAJORITY of players involved in the various lawsuits are either pro players, or players in the amatuer era who would essentially be classed as pro / semi-pro level today. And as I said above, it is night and day between those eras and the current sport in terms of concussion awareness, HIA tests during and after the game, ref and physios looking out for head knocks, baseline tests in pre-season to set your standard for tests in the game etc. That is a huge difference to even ten years ago, and the majority of lawsuits stem before this time. We have made all these changes, but not had the time to analyse the output? And few players can realistically say they weren’t aware of the dangers in todays game.

        I play in England at the moment, so can’t speak for Scottish clubs, but when similar changes were proposed in England, within a week there were 100k signatures on a petition to stop the change. No player or coach I know was keen for changes. Small sample set to be fair, but would be willing to bet the majority of currently playing players are against the change.

        I don’t think this is black and white to be fair, I can understand some benefits. But disagree with the way it has been handled (amatuer game and pro game should change together, not separately), rucks haven’t been touched yet currently have a huge influence to injuries, often severe given compromising position of players involved, and would prefer to see tackle height lowered to nipple height rather than such a drastic change.

        And still feel inclusivity of the sport is one of the best in the world, and this change is a firm step away from it.

  5. Pleased this is moving forward. Rather concerned that hall tackler doesn’t have requirement to not drop in height. They had to introduce that in France after launch of their tackle initiative after huge increase in red cards.

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  6. Should the new law not start with the pro game as all the kids watch them live or on the TV and try to copy there tackle techniques

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