• U20 trials aim to reduce high-risk tackles from the game and enhance injury-prevention
  • Trials will provide the game with key injury-prevention data
  • Unions supportive of trials, which were approved by the World Rugby Executive Committee

World Rugby has announced a programme of dedicated law trials at the World Rugby U20 Championship and U20 Trophy competitions aimed at reducing the risk of head injury by changing player behaviour in the tackle.

Rugby is committed to an evidence-based approach to injury-prevention, and with the latest comprehensive research determining that tacklers who are upright carrying the greatest risk of head-injury, the trials are designed to change player behaviour by getting the tackler to attempt lower tackles and therefore lower the risk of injury. 

As a result, the acceptable height of the tackle will be lowered through revised on-field and off-field sanctions, encouraging players to bend at the waist when attempting a tackle. 

Approval of the trials by the World Rugby Executive Committee is based on unprecedented 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 high-contact tackle (when the tackler is upright) is 4.3 times greater than a low-contact tackle
  • Head on head contact (when the tackler is upright) is 6.5 times more likely to result in a head injury than the lower head-to-hip tackle

World Rugby will trial two approaches. At the U20 Championship in France (30 May – June 17), a High Tackle Warning will be issued if the tackler is upright (i.e. not bent at the waist when tackling), and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player. This will be policed by both the match officials and the citing commissioner. When two high tackle warnings have been issued, a player will automatically receive a one-match suspension.

At the U20 Trophy (location and dates TBC), an amendment to Law 9.13 will operate, altering the definition of a high tackle from above the line of the shoulders to above the nipple line.

The trials will operate as follows:

World Rugby U20 Trophy
Law 9.13 The acceptable height of the tackle is reduced from the line of shoulders to below the nipple line.

The law will now read: A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the nipple line even if the tackle starts below the nipple line.
World Rugby U20 Championship

Tackles that increase the risk of head injury will be cited.

The match citing commissioner will issue a "High Tackle Warning" to the tackler who is deemed to be upright (not bent at the waist)

A tackler will be deemed to be upright when:

  • They are in an approximate upright standing position
  • They have made no clear attempt to lower the height of contact with the ball carrier to avoid the head or shoulders of the ball carrier
  • There is no knee flexion and minimal bending at the waist which brings the head into a dangerous position for collision with ball carrier's head or shoulder

The high tackle warning will be issued in one of four types of incidents:

  • All high-contact penalties, irrespective of sanction, during matches
  • All tackles that result in an HIA, irrespective of whether to tackler or ball-carrier
  • High tackles that are missed during the match
  • Accidental clear and obvious head to head and head to shoulder contact

Sanctions:

  • The High Tackle Warning is issued only if the tackler is upright, and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player
  • Each High Tackle Warning carries 'one strike'.When 'two strikes' (two High Tackle Warnings) have been issued, a player will receive a one-match suspension (a right to appeal will operate)
  • High Tackle Warnings also form part of the usual accumulation of sanctions, including Citing Commissioner Warnings (CCWs) and yellow cards. A strong education element will be run in parallel, explaining that this player welfare initiative protects the tackler and their opponents

 

The high tackle warning trial does not change the law in any way, and on-field decisions and sanctions for high tackles will remain in place, as directed by the high tackle directives of 2017. The change involves post-match sanctioning through the citing process.

A detailed analysis of each trial compared to data from the current global environment and previous World Rugby age-grade tournaments will enable the governing body to inform a possible game-wide approach to this priority area.

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World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “As a rugby father with sons playing at the elite and community level, I am committed to ensuring that rugby remains at the forefront of injury-prevention, specifically in the priority area of concussion.

“As a sport we have collectively made excellent progress in the programmes and initiatives that have been implemented and they are benefiting players at all levels. This trial builds on the success of lowering of the acceptable tackle height and furthers rugby’s commitment to ensure that high-risk tackles, identified through unprecedented research, are eradicated from the game, by removing contact between the tackler’s head and the head of their opponent.”

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery added: “By robust examination of our research, we are able to employ an evidence-based approach to injury-prevention. The data is compelling and clearly demonstrates that high-contact tackles carry a significantly greater risk (over four times the risk) of injury than lower-contact tackles and this applies to both the tackler who is at greatest risk and the ball carrier. This trial is designed to remove the tackler’s head from a high-risk situation through a deterrent based on a combination of law amendment, sanction and technique change.”

All participating nations competing at the U20 Championship in France were previously informed of the trial immediately after it was approved to ensure appropriate preparation time prior to the tournament.