World Rugby will encourage member unions to join a global trial of lowering tackle height to below the sternum in the community game, the governing body has said, stressing the importance of reducing injury risk via “education, sanction and law change”.
It pointed to trials conducted in France and South Africa, saying they had delivered positive advancements in terms of player safety, while also enhancing overall game experience.
“World Rugby continues to be guided by science and research as part of a relentless focus on reducing injury risk via education, sanction and law change,” it said in a statement.
“A reduction in the legal tackle height to below the sternum demonstrates increased safety outcomes while retaining the unique characteristics of the game.”
Unions will be free to determine the exact tackle height within their jurisdiction, the body added.
After consultations with unions, World Rugby will submit a tackle height action plan to its Council in May.
In January, England’s Rugby Football Union (RFU) banned tackling above the waist in community rugby matches from next season, while Scottish Rugby and the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) are exploring similar moves.
“The community game is the lifeblood of our sport … and the proposed tackle height adjustment has already delivered positive game shape and playing experience outcomes in pilot trials – this is essential to the sport’s future,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.
“The evidence we have, from France in particular, shows that not only does reducing the tackle height make the game safer but it increases numbers playing as well. That has to be the aim for everyone involved in our game.”
The RFU’s decision to change tackle height was met with widespread criticism. The governing body apologised for causing “anger and concern”, before launching initiatives to “listen to and learn from people across the game”.
Rugby Australia was one of the first international Unions to respond, saying it would work with its state based organisations to identify suitable competitions where below-the-sternum law trial could be applied.
“As part of the trial, Rugby Australia will undertake broad community consultation to gather feedback from players, coaches, match officials, teachers, parents, administrators and medical professionals to ensure their perspective is considered in any future decisions on tackle height in the community game,” Rugby Australia chief executive Andy Marinos said.
“Additionally, Rugby Australia and Member Unions will continue to emphasise the importance of correct tackle technique and understanding of the laws of the game through its relevant education and training programs.”
World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin acknowledged that a move to alter the laws of the game could encounter resistance, saying, “change can be difficult”.
“We appreciate that there will be sections of the community game who will question this move, but … such a change has the ability to enhance enjoyment, reassure parents and welcome many new participants to the sport we all love,” Gilpin added.
He had previously spoken of World Rugby’s intention to lower the legal tackling height at elite level in coming years and reiterated that message, saying the body was “open to discussions” with unions over a future trial at elite level to broaden research data.
Groups of amateur and ex-professional players have brought claims against rugby bodies alleging they negligently failed to protect them from concussion and non-concussion injuries that caused various neurological disorders.
The governing bodies have repeatedly said that they take player safety “very seriously”.