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'Belly tackle': World Rugby urges trial for player safety

NEWS: World Rugby says it will encourage member unions to join a global trial of lowering tackle height to below the sternum in the community game.

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The governing body announced the move, 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 [(also known as a ‘belly tackle’] 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, before World Rugby submits a tackle height action plan to its Council in May.

Rugby Australia said on Monday it intended to participate in the trial, though in which competitions had not yet been decided.

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The governing body would seek feedback from stakeholders before making any decision on changing the tackle height, chief executive Andy Marinos said.

“We will continue to ensure that any decisions impacting the game are informed by research and evidence that prioritise player safety and welfare,” Marinos added.

Wallabies star Rob Valetini said the potential law change could “possibly” work in the professional ranks.

He said players had already needed to alter tackling technique to adapt to previous tweaks, and said the sternum height limit might not force much further change.

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“I don’t think anyone goes much higher than that anyway, everyone is going waist and just a little bit higher than that … it’s more like a bear hug than anything,” he said.

“I’m just trying to get lower, bend through my hips and knees. Anywhere near the head or shoulders is pretty much a red card, so it’s just about trying to go lower.”

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 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”.

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.

Groups of amateur and former 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.

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