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.”