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by Gavin Hickie, Head Coach, Dartmouth Men

World Rugby New Tackle Laws

Don’t lose your head about the new tackle laws

The New Year brings with it the much discussed ‘zero tolerance’ enforcement of the new penalty guidance for high tackles.

Like many I have followed developments and the reaction to them but if you need to catch up I recommend you read a recent article by former England captain Lawrence Dallaglio who has managed to compress a long debate in the media into a very straightforward piece, giving both sides of the argument. For some this ruling brings the very essence of rugby into question - a contact sport outlawing contact - while others see it as a necessary step towards removing an unnecessary danger and returning the emphasis to skill rather than power once more.

Whatever your opinion, as players and coaches we have to work with the laws of the game and ensure we know what is and isn’t allowed. As with any changes they will take time to bed in for consistent application by officials, but a starting point for learning about the issue is to review the actual wording for the law application for reckless and accidental tackles as set out on the World Rugby website

Reckless Tackle

A player is deemed to have made reckless contact during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game if in making contact, the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway. This sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. This type of contact also applies to grabbing and rolling/ twisting around the head/ neck area even if the contact starts below the line of the shoulders.

Minimum sanction: Yellow card

Maximum sanction: Red card

Accidental Tackle

When making contact with another player during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game, if a player makes accidental contact with an opponent’s head, either directly or where the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders, the player MAY be sanctioned. This includes situations where the ball carrier slips into the tackle.

Minimum sanction: Penalty

Video analysis always help make issues easier to understand and talk through as a coaching team and squad of players. Helpfully World Rugby have provided video examples which accompany the law application guidelines and also for revisions from May 2015 regarding foul play linked to high tackles and neck contact to show just how these changes can play out in a game.

These examples highlight that the tackle technique itself is unchanged. For a defender tackling safely and effectively will always be a combination of body language, keeping eyes up, good head and foot placement, shoulder contact, arm wrap, leg drive, bringing your opponent to ground and getting back up to contest the ball.

What the videos do bring into focus is that tackle selection is now key. In Dallaglio’s piece he outlined recent examples of the rules application which could have gone differently, noting that the tackling player can be penalised even if it is the ball carrier’s change of body position which actually causes the tackler to hit his body higher than is allowed. So going for the ball could quickly becoming going for a player’s head if they dip going into contact.

Knowing when to go high, go ‘cheek to cheek, aim for the knees or tap the ankles comes down to a number of factors. As coaches ensuring players practice tackling against different sizes and types of players (short/tall, rangey/direct) and in different scenarios (1-1, 2-1, at speed/up close) gives them experience of reading situations and finding options which keep them on the right side of the law and still stop their opponent.