The future stars of world rugby are playing their part in changing high-risk tackle behaviour at the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 in Argentina, reflecting World Rugby’s commitment to reducing the risk of concussion in the sport.
Building on the success of a similar trial which operated at the 2018 Championship resulting in a 50 per cent reduction in the overall concussion rate, the high-risk tackle technique warning trial will see teams rewarded for taking positive steps to address high-risk tackle technique via a post-match review process.
As with the 2018 edition, a high-risk contact tackle technique warning issued to any player where the tackle is upright (i.e. not bent at the waist when tackling), and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player. The sanctions will be policed by both the match officials and the citing commissioner. When two high-risk tackle technique warnings have been issued, a player will automatically receive a one-match suspension.
However, a new step has been introduced for this year’s Championship to incentivise players and coaches to focus on the promotion of good, or low-risk technique. Under the system, when a first offence high tackle warning has been issued to a player, it may be rescinded if the coaches can demonstrate that they have identified the technical cause of the warning being issued and have taken steps to mitigate repeat. This is based on a checklist developed by the world’s best defence coaches that coaches and players will be able to adopt to address high-risk technique.
The approach is driven by an unprecedented study of more than 1,500 elite matches which confirmed that 76 per cent of concussions occur in the tackle, 72 per cent of concussions in the tackle sustained by the tackler and the risk of injury is 4.3 times greater when upright. It is part of a three-phase approach to reducing the risk of concussion in the sport.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby is committed to an evidence-based approach to reducing the risk of injury, and the latest data clearly shows that players are at greatest risk of concussion when making upright, but not necessarily illegal tackles.
“We want to change that behaviour in partnership with teams, players and coaches and last year’s successful trial showed that the tackle technique warning system could have the potential to transform the way that we protect and police the protection of elite players and encourage a focus on tackle technique alteration.
“By introducing a step that encourages teams to proactively work on their technique to tackle first time offenses, we are seeing significant buy-in and support. I would like to thank everyone for their open-minded approach and commitment to reducing the risk of injury.”
World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery added: “A review of 300 elite matches has assisted World Rugby in refining the process, improve definitions and streamline the steps taken to accurately and efficiently issue the warnings. The review determined that on average 2.5 high-risk tackle technique warnings would be issued per game, so the opportunity to impact behaviour change to reduce injury risk is significant. Should the trial continue to demonstrate successful outcomes, it is likely to be considered for wider trial at elite competition level.
Six players received High Risk Contact Technique Warnings on the opening day of the World Rugby U20 Championship 2019 with respect to upright tackles which result in contact with an opponent’s head.
The new high tackle sanction decision-making framework is also operational at the World Rugby U20 Championship, underlining World Rugby’s tough stance on high-risk tackles and contact with the head.