Intentional acts of foul play to the head are still few and far between in professional rugby but with player welfare a number one priority, a new Head Contact Process (HCP) has been introduced to try and reduce the number of instances even further.
Earlier this year, players, coaches, medics and match officials came together to devise a clear step-by-step framework that determines whether contact to the head was the result of an unavoidable/avoidable action and what the level of sanction should be, if any at all.
Top international referee Wayne Barnes explains how the HCP now involves all contact to the head, not just high tackles, with examples of shoulder charges, head-on-head collisions and dangerous clear-outs and fend-offs, from different competitions around the world, all highlighted in a clear and concise video.
“This is being implemented to protect players. It is up to all of us to play our part in making the game safer and help reduce the risk of injuries. That’s why rugby is taking this seriously,” Barnes says.
As a collision-based, dynamic sport, rugby inevitably comes with an element of risk, but all stakeholders continue to work hard on delivering a game that is as safe as possible, and head injury prevention is top of that list.
When there is believed to have been an act of foul play to the head, the on-field official will ask a series of questions in accordance with the HCP guidelines:
- Has head contact occurred?
- Is there foul play?
If the answer to any of the above is yes and foul play to the head has been verified by the officials and the Television Match Official (or TMO), then the referee will assess what level of danger was involved.
The referee will consider if the contact to the head was direct or indirect and what degree of force was used by the player under scrutiny in order to determine the level of danger. The appropriate sanction, ranging from a penalty to a red card, will result from that process, with mitigating factors for any ‘cardable’ offences taken into consideration. Two examples of such mitigating factors could be a disruption of the tackler’s line of sight or a sudden and significant drop or movement from the ball carrier.
Hopefully, we won’t hear Barnes feel the need to say out loud ‘has there been contact to the head?’ too often in future tests. But rest assured if he does, he will do everything within his increased powers to come to the right conclusion.