World Rugby announce new measures to limit contact with the head

  • New laws intended to reduce contact with the head in rugby union will be introduced at all levels
  • World Rugby has redefined illegal (high) tackle categories and increased sanctions to deter high tackles
  • The game’s governing body have announced details of a ‘zero-tolerance approach’ to reckless or accidental head contact
World Rugby has further strengthened its commitment to injury prevention by announcing details of a zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact in the sport.

In a change to law, World Rugby has redefined illegal (high) tackle categories and increased sanctions to deter high tackles via a law application guideline.

This will apply at all levels of the game from 3 January 2017 introducing minimum on-field sanctions for reckless and accidental contact with the head, effectively lowering the acceptable height of the tackle. The guideline will be supported with a global education programme.


Reckless tackle
A player is deemed to have made reckless contact during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game if in making contact, the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway. This sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. This type of contact also applies to grabbing and rolling or twisting around the head/neck area even if the contact starts below the line of the shoulders.
Minimum sanction: Yellow card
Maximum sanction: Red card
Accidental tackle
When making contact with another player during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game, if a player makes accidental contact with an opponent’s head, either directly or where the contact starts below the line of the shoulders, the player may still be sanctioned. This includes situations where the ball-carrier slips into the tackle.
Minimum sanction: Penalty

The approach, approved by the World Rugby Council after extensive expert, independent and union evaluation, combines with new disciplinary sanctions and a re-focus of match officials on dangerous play. It will provide a package of measures that aims to change culture in the sport to ensure that the head is a no-go area.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby continues to be proactive in aligning with the latest evidence-based recommendations in this priority player welfare area to ensure players and coaches at all levels of the game are appropriately educated, managed and protected when it comes to head impacts and injury within the environment of a contact sport.

“We believe that we are playing a leading role in terms of the development and implementation of best-practice interventions and this important study further reflects our commitment to an evidence-based approach to player welfare.

“We believe that the invaluable data from this study will inform the law review process and lead to changes in playing or training practices.”

Global education programme
World Rugby will support this initiative with a global awareness and education programme aimed at:
  • Reinforcing the zero-tolerance culture regarding head contact in the game at all levels using practical advice and visual educational materials
  • Educating that illegal tackles are not necessarily defined by where they start as they can slip up from a legal position to make contact with the neck/head
  • Educating that “bent at the waist” while tackling and entering into contact is the optimal position for injury prevention
  • Promoting best-possible technique to protect the head – expert advice will be obtained from elite defence coaches to identify the best tackle technique and the best impact position for the ball-carrier, including guidelines on double and treble tackling.

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Martin Raftery added: “The findings of this important research study will also be prepared into a series of scientific articles that we aim to have published in peer-reviewed journals. We continue to welcome and facilitate all quality research for the betterment of the game in this priority area.

“World Rugby is committed to playing a leading role in the sporting head injury agenda and continues to drive forward evidence-based strategies in education, prevention, management and research that are proving successful in protecting players at all levels of the sport.”

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