Rugby Australia has confirmed the implementation of a new tackle height trial that will see the legal level lowered from the shoulder to below the sternum in community Rugby.
This will not include Super and Test Rugby, with the trial set to begin in February 2024 in all Premier Grades, school and pathway Competitions.
It comes after extensive studies and trials across the world designed to reduce the risk of head-to-head and head-to-shoulder contact.
This has been led in France and New Zealand amongst other countries, with World Rugby's research finding the risk of concussion is more than four times higher when the tackler’s head is above the ball carrier’s sternum.
Match officials will put greater emphasis on policing the ball carrier dipping into a tackle and placing themselves and the defender in a dangerous position. It will also not affect the 'pick and go' aspect of the game, in which the ball carrier will start and drive down in a low body position.
“Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game,” said RA CEO Phil Waugh.
“Obviously it is impossible to remove all risk from the game, however we firmly believe that promoting safer tackle techniques, and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will lead to an even safer game. I am confident our players and coaches at all levels of the game will continue to work on safe and effective tackle technique.
“This is firmly in the best interests of the game, however there may be an adjustment period for players and match officials, and I would ask for patience and respect between all parties as we embark on this journey. In the French trial, they saw a significant increase in penalties in the first year of the trial, followed by a substantial drop in those numbers over the next two years as players and officials adjusted to the new measures."
The two-year trial comes after Rugby Australia announced its support for World Rugby’s global research initiative last March.
“We have been engaged with our Member Unions, coaches, match officials, administrators, and medical professionals since March, when we first signalled our intent to participate in the global law trial – and that consultation has informed the implementation in Australia," Rugby Australia’s General Manager, Community Rugby, Michael Procajlo added.
“The research undertaken by World Rugby to date has shown there are three different risk zones for tackling. The green zone encompasses the ball carrier’s torso from the sternum to the hips – this is the safest zone to tackle. Statistically, there is a little more risk once the tackle drops below the hips – hence it becomes amber. However, the greatest risk is present when tackles go above the sternum line and there is a higher risk of head-on-head or head-on-shoulder contact.
“Training and education will remain a strong focus for RA and the State and Territory Unions. We will roll out additional face-to-face coach education sessions and an eLearning course, game management guidelines for coaches and match officials, webinars for clubs and schools, and a range of online resources to assist with the change.
“This trial is just one component of Rugby Australia’s player welfare measures, which include the Blue Card and Concussion Management Procedure, Match Day Safety and Medical Requirements as well as comprehensive education and training for players and coaches on tackle and scrummaging techniques."