England’s RFU to lower tackle height to waist level for community rugby

A waist-height tackle was made in a Barbarians-Harlequins game in London.

Steve Bardens/Getty Images

A waist-height tackle was made in a Barbarians-Harlequins game in London.

World Rugby has hailed England’s move to reduce tackle height levels to waist level in the community game following a similar initiative by New Zealand Rugby.

As reported by Stuff in November, the tackle height in New Zealand’s community game will be lowered to below the sternum in 2023 in a move applying to First XV schools rugby and senior premier club grades.

The dramatic reduction in tackle height from the current laws of below the shoulders is one part of a package of three trials designed to make the game safer.

Now England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) has decided to lower the tackle height to waist level and below from July.

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The rule change will take place for the 2023-24 season and will affect all rugby below the men’s National One (tier three) level and Championship One in the women’s game. It will also apply to schools, colleges and universities.

“Evidence from our own research and from around the world clearly shows that lowering the tackle height will reduce head impact exposure,” said RFU president Nigel Gillingham.

“[It will also reduce] the risk of concussion.”


Bernie Tavite and daughter Danica Tavite talk about the need to be aware of the serious and lasting effects of concussion after Danica experienced concussion four times while playing rugby. (First published August 2021)

World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin backed the RFU move.

“In line with our six-point plan to make rugby the most progressive sport on player welfare, last year World Rugby opened discussions with unions about lowering the tackle height in the community game around the globe. At those meetings unions were presented with findings from trials that have taken place in France and South Africa as well as initial data from rugby specific studies using smart mouthguards.

“Discussions with unions have progressed well and formal proposals to be applied around the world are expected to be presented to our Executive Board in March.

“We welcome the RFU taking these proactive steps, rugby will never stand still when it comes to player welfare and this is a prime example of the sport, once again, putting our words into action.”

In announcing New Zealand’s moves, NZR general manager community rugby Steve Lancaster said the changes – all backed by the 26 provincial unions – were trialled in selected grades in 2021 and feedback from players, coaches and referees was positive.

“Our participants have told us that they want to see improvements made to the tackle and breakdown areas, so that’s been our focus,” he said.

“The resounding feedback we’ve received from this season’s trials is that the game is more enjoyable to play and safer when the tackle height is reduced to below the sternum, or what some people will know as the belly.”

There is one caveat: while the first tackler must target the belly or below, the second tackler can still make contact under the current laws – beneath the shoulders.

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