The World Rugby Council gave approval to the RFU to Law 9.13, altering the definition of a high tackle from above the line of the shoulders to above the armpit line, as an extension to a package of World Rugby lowered tackle height trials for its recent U20 Championship and U20 Trophy in August.  

The game is committed to evidence-based injury-prevention and the three trials are designed to change player behaviour in the tackle and will provide World Rugby with a bank of important data to assess the impact of the trials on the incidence of concussion and other injuries, the nature of tackles, head injury events and other game events.

The trials are based on unprecedented World Rugby research from more than 1,500 elite matches conducted by World Rugby, which confirmed:

  • 76 per cent of head injuries occur in the tackle
  • 72 per cent of head injuries in the tackle occur to the tackler
  • The risk of injury to both players from a legal high-contact tackle (when the tackler is upright) is 4.3 times greater than a low-contact tackle
  • Tackles where head to head contact is likely, as occurs for upright tacklers, are 6.5 times more likely to cause head injuries than head to hip contact resulting when tackle height is lower.

The forthcoming World Rugby U20 Trophy and RFU Championship Cup trials are the third-phase of an unprecedented approach to reducing head injuries by changing player behaviour through increased on and off field sanctions.

  • Phase one:Global sanction increases introduced in January 2017 demonstrate that in competitions where yellow cards for high tackles were increased, the concussion rates have not increased
  • Phase two:The introduction of the high-tackle warning system at the World Rugby U20 Championship in May, which aimed to penalise tacklers who were upright in a post-match review process, has reduced the concussion incidence by 50 per cent, according to preliminary data
  • Phase three:Lowering of permitted tackle height in law at the World Rugby U20 Trophy in Romania in August, with the RFU given approval extension for a similar trial for the RFU Championship Cup.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby applauds the RFU and the Championship Cup clubs for embracing this important trial. The global game is committed to an evidence-based approach to injury prevention and the outcomes from this trial, coupled with those from the World Rugby U20 Championship and U20 Trophy events, will provide World Rugby with comprehensive data and feedback to inform our continued commitment to further reducing concussion risk in rugby.”

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery added: “The variety and extent of these research trials confirms World Rugby’s and its union’s commitment to evidence-based approach to injury prevention in the priority area of head injuries. In addition to giving support to the RFU trial, World Rugby will continue to proactively support research programmes that will inform player welfare enhancements in the sport.”

“The RFU are to be applauded for their annual Injury audit across the Premiership and Championship. World Rugby is working in partnership with its unions to establish and enhance similar consistent formal injury surveillance studies across all professional competitions. This will World Rugby with a more detailed picture of injury and concussion rates.”