Should rugby league follow rugby union’s new tackle law?

IN recent years, both codes of rugby have been doing their utmost to reduce the amount of head high tackles, foul play and concussions in their respective sports.

Major progress has been made in terms of concussion protocols, head injury assessments and disciplinary consequences, but now rugby union has gone even further by bringing in a reduced tackling height across the community game for the 2023-24 season.

The new rule will come into place from 1 July 2023, with the community game covering clubs, schools, colleges and universities.

The change will impact age-grade and adult levels – from National One and below in the men’s game and Championship One and below in the women’s game.

That now means that tackles will be made at the waistline and below with the aim of a defender to put their heads in the safest possible place.

The ball carrier is also set to be given added responsibility by avoid late ‘dipping’ in the tackle so a bent tackler is no longer at risk of head-to-head contact with match officials focusing on both the ball carrier and tackler if head contact does occur.

In a statement the Rugby Football Union (RFU) said: “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.”

That means that, effectively, rugby union is being changed from a contact sport to an evasion one. Add into the fact that he law has come into being on the same day more than 55 amateur players claimed playing the game had led to brain injuries and it’s a drastic step.

Meanwhile, former rugby league players such as Bobbie Goulding and Francis Maloney are also part of the wider lawsuit of 75 ex-professional league players against the Rugby Football League that are suing the governing body for allegedly failing to protect them from the risks caused by concussions.

It’s a strong statement made by the RFU, so it will be interesting to see if the RFL makes any changes to their own laws moving forward.

But, perhaps the major question is, what happens once these community players – who are now being told to tackle lower – make it to the semi-professional or professional level?

How can there be two sets of rules in one code? It’s a major step, but one which leaves more questions than answers.