World Rugby considers lowering tackle height in elite game as part of law shake-up

Global trial of 20-minute red cards also part of a radical plan to 'reimagine' the sport's entertainment factor

England's Tom Curry is shown a yellow card, later upgraded to a red, for a high tackle on Argentinean full-back Juan Cruz Mallia during last Autumn's Rugby World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson -
England's Tom Curry is shown a yellow card, later upgraded to a red, for a high tackle on Argentinean full-back Juan Cruz Mallia during last Autumn's Rugby World Cup. Image: © Craig Watson -

WORLD RUGBY is considering reducing the tackle height in the elite game as well as a global trial of 20-minute red cards as part of a radical plan to ‘reimagine’ the sport’s entertainment factor.

The global governing body will also look into the possibility of reducing the number of replacements and reassess the use of the Television Match Official as it seeks to speed the game up and improve it as a spectacle.

A five stage plan has been outlined following World Rugby’s Shape of the Game forum last month, with the first phase being implemented from today, which involves stricter enforcement of existing laws such as only two dedicated water carriers per team, hookers being expected to maintain a “full brake foot” to aid scrum stability and safety during the engagement sequence, and scrum-halves being encouraged to play the ball more quickly from rucks through the referee shouting “use it” to trigger a five second count to play the ball away in attempt to bring to an end the ‘caterpillar ruck’.

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Phase two will see three more law adjustments be rubber-stamped by the World Rugby Council at its next meeting on May 9th.

The first is to effectively scrap the ‘Dupont Law’ loophole which allows players to hover in front of a kicker in their team then be played onside once the kick receiver has passed the ball or moved five metres with it. This reduces both space to counter-attack and space in the backfield to kick tactically, and has led to lengthy spells of kick tennis during matches. It was a significant factor leading to Scotland’s undoing against France during the recent Six Nations.

The second law adjustment is to remove the scrum option from a free-kick at a scrum, and the third is to outlaw the dangerous “crocodile roll” technique for clearing ruck jackalers.

Phase three will encourage unions and competitions  to implement a series of closed law trials including using a shot clock for scrums and line-outs, marking the ball inside the 22m line from a restart, insisting the ball must be played after a maul has been stopped once (rather than twice), greater protection for the scrum-half and allowing the referee to play on if a not straight line-out is uncontested.



Phase four includes the introduction of a global trial of 20-minute red cards – where the player who is sent off is not allowed to return to the field but is replaced after 20 minutes – will be voted on at World Rugby’s Council meeting in May as part of a comprehensive review of disciplinary and sanctioning processes. This law variation has been popular in the southern hemisphere and would avoid matches being ruined as a spectacle by debatable red cards. However, there is concern about introducing more lenient sanctions amid the ongoing head injury litigation sends the wrong message.

A specialist working group will be established to assess the results of the community tackle height trials across 11 unions and “consider appropriateness for elite rugby”.

Another working group will research the impact of fatigue, with reference to the number and timing of replacements in the elite game “to determine options that might create more space on the field while improving injury rates”.

World Rugby also wants to overhaul the TMO protocol which has been criticised for causing lengthy stoppages to the game, and also look at “setting new minimum standards for technology providers” amid a number of complaints that replays have not been available or shown during the Six Nations.

Targeting the next generation of supporters will include a review of the language and terminology that is used within the game, including how it is marketed and presented, to improve the in-stadium experience.

Phase five will examine the impact of specific aspects of the game – likely to include scrum engagement sequence and tackle/ruck area – in ‘Rugby Labs’, which will provide a controlled environment and evaluation via data and player feedback. The aim is to asses the impact on speed or safety of the game.

“The moves that we are making are grounded in our commitment to increasing relevance on a global basis and born from a desire to change for the better,” said World Rugby Chair Bill Beaumont. “That means being bold, embracing change by dialing up the entertainment value, making our stars more accessible and simplifying terminology and language used to explain rugby to those who are yet to fall in love with it. We have moved quickly. It has taken a special unity and commitment from across the sport to be able to present a package of enhancements to the council in May. I look forward to the discussions.”

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About David Barnes 3891 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. I think that when an attacking player intentionally moves or ducks to make head contact, he should be penalised instead of the defender

  2. How about deeming the ball to have left a ruck as soon as scrum half touches the ball with either hand or foot. Stop the horrible crocodile being formed

    • Great comment. I would also like to stop refs from “coaching”. Players know when they are moving from an onside position to an offside position. Comments such as play the ball triggering the 5 seconds are needed obviously but it should be 5 seconds not, say, 7 or 8.

  3. Best thing to do in terms of both player safety and creating a more entertaining game would be to restrict replacements to independently verified injuries only. I don’t mean taking the player to hospital for assessment but do need an independent doctor available so we can avoid any Bloodgate scenarios. Play the full 80 and players have to be fitter and more mobile, and when they do tire, creates more space for the backs to produce running rugby. And should also avoid a fresh-legged 22st player running into a tired 15st player.
    I like the idea of a points penalty along with a 20 minute rule for a red card. Perhaps 7 points awarded to opposition on a red card being given so the game isn’t totally out of reach for the offending team, who also have 14 players for 20 minutes – too big a points sanction and game ends as a contest. And of course, the disciplinary process needs a huge review and overhaul. Players should receive bans after a red card but this has to be more open and consistent, it’s been a farce for too long. Tackle height should be below the shoulders, probably much easier to officiate than “below the waist” when that can be a bit vague. A lot of teams seem to be giving up on competing for the ball at the breakdown so does the jackal need to be looked at as that’s where a number of head contacts occur. Controversially, I would prefer teams not to be able to score directly from a line out maul as that encourages pure ballast in the pack but I get that that might be a step too far.

  4. Personally I want a safer game for the players. That means lower tackle height and change to sub rules.

    The spectacle and entertainment part are the least of our worries.

    • Agree, Dominic, player safety is a priority. But to the casual spectator- of which make up the vast majority on international days- entertainment and spectacle is everything too. It puts bums on seats, brings in sponsors and TV revenues and pays top salaries for top players.
      Duponts law, interminable kick tennis, collapsing scrums, constant stop start games etc all need to be addressed.
      Otherwise it will become a game solely for the purist played in front of 2 men and a dog

      • Absolutely Ed. I recall the kick tennis was from a previous attempt to “speed up the game”.

        Each action has an equal and opposite reaction. And careful consideration is required in how we sequence these various changes over what timescale. Otherwise we won’t be able to assess which change is driving which “benefit”

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