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Dublin: 1°C Wednesday 12 May 2021

World Rugby to trial new low tackle laws in bid to reduce risk of head injuries

The trials will take place during this summer’s U20 World Championship and U20 Trophy.

WORLD RUGBY IS to trial new low tackle laws at this summer’s U20 World Championship and U20 Trophy in a bid to reduce the risk of head injury by changing player behaviour in the tackle.

Wales v South Africa - International Match The trials were approved after a study of more than 1,500 elite games. Source: David Rogers

The sport’s governing body has today announced a new programme of dedicated laws which will see the acceptable height of the tackle lowered through revised on-field and off-field sanctions, thus encouraging players to bend at the waist when attempting a tackle.

World Rugby will trial two approaches at the U20 Championship and U20 Trophy in the coming weeks.

At the U20 Championship in France, which gets underway next week, a high tackle warning will be issued if the tackler is upright (not bent at the waist) and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player.

It will be policed by the match officials and the citing commissioner and when two high tackle warnings have been issued, the player will automatically receive a one-match suspension.

The high tackle warning does not, however, change the law in any way, and on-field decisions and sanctions for such an offence will remain in place.

A tackler will be deemed to be upright when:

  • They are in an approximate upright standing position
  • They have made no clear attempt to lower the height of contact with the ball carrier to avoid the head or shoulders of the ball carrier
  • There is no knee flexion and minimal bending at the waist which brings the head into a dangerous position for collision with ball carrier’s head or shoulder.

The high tackle warning will be issued in one of four types of incidents:

  • All high-contact penalties, irrespective of sanction, during matches
  • All tackles that result in an HIA, irrespective of whether to tackler or ball-carrier
  • High tackles that are missed during the match
  • Accidental clear and obvious head to head and head to shoulder contact


  • The high tackle warning is issued only if the tackler is upright, and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player
  • Each high tackle warning carries ‘one strike’. When ‘two strikes’ (two high tackle warnings) have been issued, a player will receive a one-match suspension (a right to appeal will operate)
  • High tackle warnings also form part of the usual accumulation of sanctions, including Citing Commissioner Warnings (CCWs) and yellow cards. A strong education element will be run in parallel, explaining that this player welfare initiative protects the tackler and their opponents.

Clive Ross is tackled high by James Cronin In the U20 Trophy, a trial law will lower the tackle from the shoulder line to the nipple line. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

Meanwhile, at the U20 Trophy, an amendment to Law 9.13 will operate, altering the definition of a high tackle from above the line of the shoulders to above the nipple line.

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That law will now read:

“A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously. Dangerous tackling includes, but is not limited to, tackling or attempting to tackle an opponent above the nipple line even if the tackle starts below the nipple line.”

The two trials were approved by the World Rugby Executive Committee after a study of more than 1,500 elite matches confirmed that 76 per cent of head injures occur in the tackle and the risk of injury to both players from a high-contact tackle is 4.3 times greater than a low-contact tackle.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “As a rugby father with sons playing at the elite and community level, I am committed to ensuring that rugby remains at the forefront of injury-prevention, specifically in the priority area of concussion.

“As a sport we have collectively made excellent progress in the programmes and initiatives that have been implemented and they are benefiting players at all levels. This trial builds on the success of lowering of the acceptable tackle height and furthers rugby’s commitment to ensure that high-risk tackles, identified through unprecedented research, are eradicated from the game, by removing contact between the tackler’s head and the head of their opponent.”

All participating nations competing at the U20 Championship in France were informed of the trail immediately after it was approved.

Ireland are in Pool C alongside hosts France, South Africa and Georgia, with Noel McNamara’s side getting their campaign underway against Les Bleus next Wednesday [KO 8pm, eir Sport] in Perpignan.

For more information on the law trials, you can watch the following World Rugby video:

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