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Leinster among first to face redefined tackle directives but don't see 'drastic change'
Leo Cullen says the province have always been aware of the danger of high tackles.

MANY PEOPLE IN rugby are expecting a rash of yellow cards this weekend, and perhaps even a few reds thrown into the mix.

World Rugby’s redefined illegal high tackle categories and increased sanctions came into effect on Tuesday, effectively meaning that any high tackles – even if accidental – will be more severely punished.

Malakai Fekitoa tackles Simon Zebo high Dan Sheridan / INPHO This kind of tackle will be a clear red card now. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Leinster will be among the first Guinness Pro12 sides to play since the re-focus, as they face Zebre at the RDS this evening [KO 7.35pm, TG4]. Ulster are also in action later, taking on the Scarlets in Wales [KO 7.35pm, BBC NI].

So, what exactly is involved in these ‘redefinitions’?

Below is the exact wording circulated publicly by World Rugby. It’s worth taking a minute to go through exactly what the game’s governing body is aiming to clamp down on.

Tackles

Leinster coach Leo Cullen yesterday indicated that his team are “very conscious” of the danger that high tackles bring, but he suggested that there is no “drastic change” in these redefined laws and supposedly increased sanctions.

Cullen did welcome World Rugby’s focus on this area of the game, pointing out that concussion is a major issue in the sport and that a reduction of foul play would also mean a more attractive product for supporters.

“I don’t think it’s a drastic change,” said Cullen at the RDS yesterday. “All it is is enforcing that you can’t tackle high, but you couldn’t tackle high before that. So there’s no change.

“It was the same last year; if you hit up, you have to have that responsibility.”

Indeed, Cullen points to a specific example involving Fergus McFadden last season, with the Ireland international wing subsequently banned for three weeks for his tackle.
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“We had a couple of incidents last year where we had a couple of players, Fergus McFadden was one, where he slid up on a tackle and he got a suspension on the back of it,” said Cullen.

“Even though his contact was below the shoulder or on the shoulder line, because he slid up, he has to be conscious of his responsibility that it is a possibility that it may take place. It’s something that the players certainly have to be aware of.”

The Leinster head coach feels that the attention on Ireland’s second meeting with the All Blacks has partly led to World Rugby’s fresh focus on this area.

“Certain things happened in that game that players got away with, weren’t sanctioned during or after the game and, hence, it increased the focus on it,” said Cullen.

“Nothing has changed drastically, you can’t tackle around the neck, but you weren’t allowed to do that last year, or the year before.”

Cullen says Leinster have worked hard on their tackle technique with ‘A’ team head coach Hugh Hogan and senior team assistant coach Girvan Dempsey, while a study undertaken by a member of the province’s medical staff on concussion was heavily focused around tackle technique.

So nothing has changed in Leinster’s training ground approach.

And yet, there is likely to be an even greater scrutiny on the tackle over the coming weeks, as referees look to stick strictly to World Rugby’s directives and begin as they mean to go on.

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Leo Cullen Dan Sheridan / INPHO Cullen says there will be no 'drastic change'. Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“There’s greater scrutiny than there was before,” said Cullen. “I mean foul play, there’s no real place for dirty play or cynical play, there’s no role for it anymore, that’s a positive.

“The game, as a professional game, is still young. We’re adapting and trying to improve, but there’s a realisation that there’s the game, and trying to stay true to certain values about the game, but also trying to improve it as a spectacle as well.

“There’s been lots of tweaks. The tackle is a big thing now, before it might have been how to improve the scrum; the hit was taken out of the scrum, pre-binding came in. All along, there’s tweaks to different parts and aspects of the game. Think back 30 years ago and there was no lifting in the lineout, how has that changed the game.

“You just go through different phases and hopefully down the track we’ll have a very exciting product.”

As for the players, scrum-half Luke McGrath says there is widespread awareness about World Rugby’s redefined high tackle categories and increased sanctions.  He welcomes any measures aimed at improving player welfare.

“I think we are all educated enough about what’s a legal tackle and what’s not,” said McGrath. “It is tough if a guy has quite good feet, you can slip up at times.

“But we’ve really got to work on it now as it is going to be sanctioned.”

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