21 Jan 2023

English rugby to clarify contentious tackle laws

12:25 pm on 21 January 2023

England's Rugby Football Union says it will soon provide "clarity for the game" regarding its radical new tackle laws amid fears of a mass player exodus.

Marco Wentzel of London Wasps tackles Paul Hodgson of Worcester Warriors during an English Premiership match between London Wasps and Worcester Warriors.

Marco Wentzel of London Wasps tackles Paul Hodgson of Worcester Warriors during an English Premiership match between London Wasps and Worcester Warriors. Photo: Photosport

The tackle height will be lowered to the waist from next season for all levels apart from the Premiership and Championship.

The RFU says "detailed guidelines" will be sent out to players, coaches and referees.

"We understand this is a significant change," said a union spokesperson.

However, numerous clubs, players, coaches, and officials have expressed their concerns to the BBC, branding the law change unworkable, lamenting a lack of consultation, and fearing a mass player departure from the sport.

Manchester Rugby Club, in the fifth tier of the English rugby pyramid, say they have "real concerns" the move will "kill playing numbers for next year".

Sam Williams, captain of Wasps FC, the amateur arm of former professional club Wasps, said the reaction from his squad members had been "overwhelmingly negative, with most suggesting it will change their commitment to playing or make them retire/change sports altogether".

Meanwhile a petition calling for the RFU to reverse its decision has amassed more than 30,000 signatures in a little more than 24 hours.

"Dropping the tackle height to below the waist will make the game a farcical spectacle to watch," said the petition founder Ed Bartlett, a player with Old Reigatian RFC in the level-six Regional South East 2.

"I completely understand the need to make the game safer and where possible eliminate the head-on-head collisions, but no-one is forcing anyone to play rugby union."

There is also concern about the pressure the law change will put on volunteer coaches and referees, with the new tackle height coming into effect on 1 July.

"The implementation of it leaves the grassroots game way too little time to adjust," said Dickon Moon, the long-standing director of rugby at level-six London Cornish.

"How I am meant to retrain our circa 100 players in time for the new season when we only train once a week and have to also use pre-season to get players fit?"

The RFU says its decision has been taken after six years of studies, and insists there is strong data-led evidence to show that lowering the height of the tackle reduces the risk of 'head acceleration events'.

It has also taken guidance from a successful waist-high trial in France, although that only applied to the sixth tier and below.

The RFU has pledged to provide players, coaches and match officials with a "multi-format programme of training and technical support" to prepare them for the new laws.

An RFU spokesperson added: "We understand this is a significant change and the game will have questions around the detail of the new law variation, what it means for coaches and players and how the tackle will be refereed during different phases of the game.

"Detailed law application guidelines and training materials will be provided over the coming weeks for players, coaches and match officials to give clarity for the game.

"By making this decision now, the intention is to give the game time to prepare ahead of the new season."

'Rugby is not an evasion sport'

While the change in laws does not affect the professional game in England, the plans have been criticised by some of the game's biggest names.

"Rugby is not an 'evasion sport'," former New Zealand international Sonny Bill Williams wrote on social media.

"Rugby is about creating space through manipulating and moving defences, contact is part of the game."

Former Wales and Lions player Mike Phillips added that players should expect "more red and yellow cards" that would "spoil the game".

Harlequins' Joe Marler expressed his disapproval with a "mind-blown" emoji while Gloucester's Lewis Ludlow said concussions would "go through the roof" in the community game.