Rugby’s world governing body is encouraging its member unions to trial “belly tackles” in the community game in a bid to make the sport safer.
World Rugby’s leadership is not ruling out trialing the lowered tackle height in the elite game, too.
“The clear mounting evidence is that doing nothing is simply not an option,” World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said in a statement published yesterday.
The organization’s executive board has recommended, subject to World Rugby Council approval, that national unions consult over lowering the tackle height at non-elite level in a bid to reduce concussions caused by head-on-head contact between a tackler and the ball-carrier.
World Rugby’s recommendation is that the height be set below the sternum, which it also refers to as a “belly tackle.”
The World Rugby Council will not meet to consider this proposal for approval until May, but World Rugby made the announcement to enable unions to engage in full consultation ahead of their new seasons.
The trials will be opt-in, so unions do not have to take part but are encouraged to do so.
“Specifically in the community game, head-on-head contact is something we need to reduce,” Gilpin said. “We have to view these proposals as an opportunity to grow the sport at community level in tandem with reducing player risk.”
There has been a mixed response globally to initiatives aimed at lowering tackle height.
In England, the Rugby Football Union faced widespread criticism after announcing plans in January to ban tackling above the waist from next season in the community game. The RFU apologized for how it had communicated its proposal and has engaged in a fresh period of consultation on the issue.
A trial of lowering tackle height to the waist — above the shorts line — was commissioned in the French community game and endorsed by World Rugby in 2019, with some encouraging results.
The organization reported a 63% reduction in head-on-head contact and a 16% increase in participation levels. The study also found the change in tackle height enabled ball-carriers to achieve a greater number of offloads, improving the flow of the game.
Last year, New Zealand consulted on lowering tackle height to below the sternum, while the Scottish Rugby Union began its consultation on community game tackle height last month.
World Rugby attempted to allay fears the changes would make the game only open to players with certain body types.
“That definitely is not the intention,” said Mark Harrington, its chief player welfare and rugby services officer. “People say we’re trying to drive the game to the floor. We’re not, we’re just trying to get heads out of the same space.” MDT/AP