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Rugby Australia experiment: Ball carriers to be penalised

Rugby Australia have announced a lower tackle height trial as they look to minimise the risk of concussions and encourage more players to take up the sport.

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The two-year trial, starting in February, will see the legal tackle height in community rugby lowered from below the shoulders to below the sternum, aiming to improve player safety by reducing the risk of head-on-head or head-on-shoulder contact.

The new rule, which will affect all forms of rugby below Super Rugby Pacific, follows six years of research including similar trials in nations such as France, England, New Zealand and South Africa.

One of the significant features of the trial is to allow for the sanction of ball carriers who ‘deliberately’ drop their heads into contact.

As part of the trial, referees will also be asked to focus their attention on the ball-carrier dipping into the defensive line, which makes it more difficult for the defending player to make a legal tackle.

That, however, does not apply to a “pick-and-go” carry, where ball-carriers are generally already in a low position in and around the ruck.

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Preliminary data in South Africa has shown a 30 percent reduction in concussions, while France recorded a 64 percent reduction in head-on-head contact – as well as a 14 percent increase in participation on pre-COVID levels.

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RA boss said the trial was an opportunity to make the game safer, which was a major concern for potential players.

“We firmly believe that promoting safer tackle techniques, and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will lead to an even safer game,” Waugh said in a statement on Friday.

“Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game.”

He said that the French trial showed a “significant increase” in penalties in the first year followed by a “substantial drop” in subsequent years.

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The trial will be implemented in all premier grades, schools and pathway competitions.

The sport’s governing body has begun an extensive educational program with administrators, coaches, match officials and players around the new law.

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