Player welfare is the sport's top priority and injury incidence in global elite rugby has reduced in recent years thanks to the sport’s forward-thinking and research-driven approach to injury prevention and injury management.
With the rugby community focused on reducing the risk of concussion, injury rates across global elite competitions have reduced by 15 per cent (30 per cent at Rugby World Cup 2019), demonstrating a change in culture, behaviour and strong compliance with World Rugby's player welfare standards.
Key to injury prevention is the process of law review, and last year the World Rugby Executive Committee approved a package of innovative law trials specifically designed to reduce injuries at all levels.
The major focus of the law amendment process was the imperative to reduce injury risk in the tackle, which is responsible for 50 per cent of all match injuries and 76 per cent of all concussions (72 per cent occurring to the tackler). This is in part driven by an increase of ball in play time by 50 per cent since Rugby World Cup 1987 to approximately 35 minutes at Rugby World Cup 2019. This environment has given rise to a 252 per cent increase in tackles over the same period, which is why World Rugby is focused on this important area.
With unions, regions and competition owners embracing the opportunity to participate, the process of implementation and evaluation in nominated competitions is well underway, with opportunities for fans and players to experience the trials up close this year.
What is the philosophy behind the trials?
The fundamental principle of all trials is player welfare and the trials have been approved after extensive analysis by the specialist Law Review Group following union submissions and analysis at the ground-breaking player welfare and laws symposium in Marcoussis, France, in March 2019.
What are the trials?
The package of six law amendments are:
- 50:22 kick: If the team in possession kicks the ball from inside their own half indirectly into touch inside their opponents’ 22 or from inside their own 22 into their opponents’ half, they will throw in to the resultant lineout Rationale: To create space via a tactical choice for players to drop back out of the defensive line in order to prevent their opponents from kicking for touch.
- The Tackle Technique Warning: Successfully trialled at the World Rugby U20 Championship for the last two years reducing the incidence of concussion by more than 50 per cent. Rationale: Head Injury prevention strategy.
- Reducing the tackle height to the waist. Rationale: Forcing players to tackle lower may reduce the risk of head injuries to both the tackler and tackled player. It may also encourage more offloads and expansive play.
- Ability to review a yellow card when a player is in the sin-bin for dangerous foul play: Rationale: To ensure players who are guilty of serious foul play do not escape with a yellow card when they deserved red.
- The introduction of an infringement (penalty and free-kick) limit for teams. Once a team has reached the limit, a mandatory yellow card is given to the last offending player as a team sanction. Rationale: To encourage teams to offend less.
- The awarding of a goal-line drop-out to the defending team when an attacking player, who brings the ball into in-goal, is held up. Rationale: To reward good defence and promote a faster rate of play.
Where to see the trials in action in 2020
- Australia, New Zealand and South Africa | Super Rugby - Tackle Technique Warning
- Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Uruguay and USA |Americas Rugby Championship - 50:22 kick
- Top 14 and Pro D2 - Tackle Technique Warning
- Community Rugby: C 2nd and 3rd federal division – Federal B – Excellence B – Women’s Federal 1, - C = Regional series – Honour Reserves – Rugby entreprises – Women's’ Federal 2 – U19 League 1 and 2 – U16 League 1 and 2 – Women’s Federal U18 , D = Game with 10 players - Waist High Tackle
- South Africa |Varsity Cup - 50:22 kick
- Fiji | Kaji competition, Deans Schools, Skipper and Vanua and Women’s competitions - Waist High Tackle
- Georgia | U16 and U18s - 50:22 kick
- Italy | Top 12, Serie A, B, C, Women, U18 and U16 - 50:22 kick
The trials follow a highly-encouraging Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan with initial data suggesting a reduction in incidence and severity of injury rates and a significant 30 per cent plus reduction in concussion rates versus other elite competitions.
The outcomes can be attributed to the implementation of the most comprehensive package of tournament player welfare standards, including the High Tackle Sanction Framework, which encouraged players to change behaviour from high-risk tackles to lower risk tackles.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: "World Rugby is unwavering in its commitment to ensuring rugby is as simple and safe to play as possible for all. While the recent Rugby World Cup demonstrated a slight decrease in injury rates and a 30 per cent plus reduction in concussions owing to the implementation of evidence-based injury prevention programmes, we can and must do more to reduce injuries at all levels. This is an important milestone on that journey.
"We have already seen hugely encouraging initial outcomes and feedback from Australia’s National Rugby Championship and are delighted to have such a broad range of elite and community leagues running trials thanks to the support of our unions and regions."
World Rugby is currently seeking 2019 law amendment proposals from its member unions, regional associations and global elite competitions. The Law Review Group will reconvene in early March where the current trials will be reviewed and any new union proposals considered with recommendations made to the Rugby Committee.
The March meetings will also see the specialist Breakdown Group convene to consider injury-prevention at the breakdown, which is responsible for approximately eight per cent of match injuries.