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World Rugby approves law trial to reduce tackle height to the waist

Another closed trial will see yellow cards being reviewed while players are in the sin bin.

WORLD RUGBY HAS approved six law amendments for closed trials, including one that will reduce the legal tackle height to the waist.

Also among the package of closed trials is the introduction of an infringement limit for teams [including penalties and free-kicks], where a mandatory yellow card is given once a team reaches that limit.

There will be further closed trials of the ‘high tackle warning system‘ that has been in place at the last two World Rugby U20 Championships, while a goal-line drop-out trial has also been approved.

The much-discussed 50:22 kicking law has also been approved for closed trial. 

The other trial will allow foul play that has resulted in a yellow card to be reviewed during the sin-bin period, potentially meaning the sanction could be upgraded to a red card if the foul play was not sufficiently punished by the referee on the pitch.

Australia’s National Rugby Championship will trial the goal-line drop-out and the infringement limit, but World Rugby has yet to confirm exactly which competitions will trial the other amendments.

Ireland’s Garry Ringrose is tackled by France’s Gaël Fickou and Antoine Dupont A new closed law trial will reduce the tackle height to the waist. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

The reduction of the legal tackle height to the waist would transform the shape of the game, with World Rugby saying this particular closed trial aims to see if forcing players to tackle lower will reduce the risk of head injuries to both the tackler and tackled player.

The rationale behind the 50:22 kick is to create more space by forcing players to drop back out of the defensive line, while the awarding of a goal-line drop-out for holding up the attacking team over the goal-line aims to reward good defence and promote a faster rate of play.

The hope is that the infringement limit encourages teams to offend less, while the rationale behind the yellow card review system is to ensure serious foul play is more consistently dealt with.

The French Rugby Federation’s community levels, Georgia’s domestic leagues, Fiji’s domestic leagues, the Americas Rugby Championship, South Africa’s Currie Cup, and Italy’s domestic leagues have all expressed an interest in operating one or more of the closed trials.

World Rugby announced the package – all aimed at making the game safer – after its executive committee gave the nod of approval.

The new law trials stem from a welfare and laws symposium in Paris earlier this year, where rugby’s leading unions and bodies convened to discuss injury prevention. The tackle, which is responsible for 50% of all match injuries and 76% of all concussions, was a key focus at the symposium.

If the trials are successful in these closed environments, they could be approved for global trials within the next World Cup cycle, meaning we could see them made permanent law in time for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Jonathan Sexton kicks The 50:22 kick could reduce the numbers in defensive frontlines. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

As well as the six approved trials, World Rugby’s executive committee called for further evaluation of two other areas.

A reduction in the number of permitted substitutions from its current eight was discussed in Paris earlier this year, with World Rugby now committing to sponsor more research to determine if there is a player welfare benefit in this proposal.

Meanwhile, World Rugby has confirmed that it will form a specialist working group to assess all issues regarding the ruck and breakdown.

“Approval of these law trials represents another important step on the road to further law improvement within the next four-year Rugby World Cup cycle,” said John Jeffrey, chairman of World Rugby’s laws review group.

“Significantly, these trials have injury-prevention at their core, but there are also clear benefits to improving the spectacle for players, match officials, and fans. I look forward to seeing them progress in closed domestic environments.”

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Murray Kinsella

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