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IRFU Opt Into World Rugby Tackle Trial

1st June 2023 By The Editor

IRFU Opt Into World Rugby Tackle Trial

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The IRFU Union Committee have formally voted to opt into World Rugby’s global trial to lower the tackle height in the community game to below the line of the sternum.

It follows an earlier vote by the IRFU Rugby Committee and an extensive community consultation process with Irish Rugby stakeholders.

The trial will apply to all amateur IRFU and provincial competitions at age-grade and adult levels in clubs and schools for the 2023/24 and 2024/25 seasons.

New World Rugby and laboratory studies have shown that head injury risk is at its highest when tackles are made to the head and shoulder and lowest when tackles are made to the belly area.

The purpose of this trial will be to incentivise greater use of the belly tackle and ultimately reduce incidents of head-on-head impact in the tackle.

For more information see https://www.irishrugby.ie/playing-the-game/tackle-behaviour/

For the purposes of the trial World Rugby Union Law 9.13 will read as follows:

IRFU Tackle Height Law Trial – 2023/24 and 2024/25:

“Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the line of the sternum* even if the tackle starts below the line of the sternum.”

*Previously: Shoulder (a horizontal line drawn from top of one armpit to the other)

Rucks and Mauls will not be affected by this law trial as they are covered under Law 9.20 (Dangerous Play In A Ruck Or Maul).

Nearly half of all tackles involve more than one tackler and so for the purpose of clarity, the legal tackle height of below the sternum would apply to all tacklers.

A law trial would not change the ability for an attacking team to carry out a “pick-and-go” play, but law application guidelines may apply where any player has initiated shoulder-to-head/neck or head-to-head/neck contact.

Rugby Union Law 9.11 currently states that: “Players must not do anything that is reckless or dangerous to others including leading with the elbow or forearm, or jumping into, or over, a tackler.” As always, a strict approach will be applied to reckless or dangerous play by a ball carrier.

This will include a ball carrier leading with their head or initiating contact with their head.

IRFU Rugby Development Director Colin McEntee commented:

“Based on the findings of the community consultation process, there is a critical mass of stakeholders who are clearly open to change for the good of the game.”

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who engaged with us throughout – the constructive feedback we received on both sides of the argument has shaped how we’ll be implementing the trial and supporting everyone in making it a success for the future of our sport.”

“The trial itself won’t present any significant changes to how we coach the tackle – it’s only the matter of a few centimetres.

“But it is a significant element of a wider drive to improve tackle behaviours.

“From next week, players, coaches and match officials can look forward to a new suite of resources being rolled out across the summer.”

The Irish Rugby Injury Surveillance (IRIS) project monitors injury trends in the Energia AIL Men’s Divisions and Women’s Division as well as Senior Schools competitions. IRIS will continue to monitor these trends and track the trial over the next two seasons.

Additional tools are also being developed for measuring and monitoring changes to the game, including continued stakeholder feedback.

IRFU Community Consultation Process – Summary

PHASE 1 – Internal Assessment (JAN-FEB ’23)

• IRFU Medical Dept presented new evidence from existing trials, studies and medical research to IRFU Union Committee.
• IRFU Union Committee voted to commence consultation process.
• Irish Rugby staff consultations – 100+ IRFU and provincial staff.

PHASE 2 – Community Notification (MAR ’23)

• Detailed memo published and issued to club honorary secretaries and school principals with overview of consultation process.
• IRFU Medical Dept information guide published and distributed.
• World Rugby proposal distributed.
• World Rugby invited to present to Irish Rugby stakeholders.

PHASE 3 – Community Engagement (MAR – APR ’23)

• 500+ Webinar Registrations for Consultation Process Overview, World Rugby Proposal Overview and Presentation From World Rugby On The Case For Lowering Tackle Height In Community Rugby.
o All participants invited to ask questions and provide feedback.
o All participants take part in sentiment survey.
• IRFU publish details of proposed law-trial to lower tackle height.
• IRFU share invite to World Rugby Player Welfare & Laws Symposium event on Tackle Height.
• Scottish Rugby tackle height case study published.
• Written feedback form added to IrishRugby.ie.

PHASE 4 – Evaluation & Recommendation (APR-MAY ’23)

• 100+ attend series of open engagements with IRFU/Provincial Staff; Match Officials; Age-Grade & Schools stakeholders; Junior & Senior Club stakeholders.
o Participants invited to share feedback on proposed law trial
o Participants asked to take part in polls to capture sentiment.
• Evaluation of feedback captured during consultation process.
• Formal recommendation to IRFU Rugby Committee
• IRFU Rugby Committee and IRFU Union Committee vote to opt into global trial.

IRFU Tackle Behaviour Working Group: Tanya Abbas, Kevin Beggs, Sean Brassil, Colm Finnegan, Alex Hunter, Dr Jennifer Kavanagh, Colin McEntee, Dr Rod McLoughlin, Colin Moran, Ultan O’Callaghan, Ross O’Donoghue, Dudley Phillips, Jamie Turkington, Dr Caithriona Yeomans.

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