Save our sports

SIMON BORCHARDT says rugby must stand up to the safety police.

I was encouraged by the fact that the RFU’s decision to lower the tackle height from shoulder to waist in English amateur rugby – in a further bid to reduce concussion – was met with outrage, because we will need more of it to save our sport.

Many amateur club players said they would stop playing the game if the trial came into effect from 1 July as planned, while there was universal condemnation of the RFU’s total lack of consultation with the clubs before making what is literally a game-changing decision.

ALSO: Fans not amused by waist-tackle ‘joke’

Such was the backlash that the RFU was forced to hold an emergency council meeting at which the decision was reviewed, with a resolution set to be presented to the full council in February. At least one council member has been instructed by his member clubs to vote to overturn the decision.

This tackle trial is not being implemented at a professional level – yet – but several professional players still felt compelled to speak out against it.

Ireland captain Johnny Sexton was one of the most vocal, labeling the trial ‘dangerous’.

‘You’ve got tall people who play the game, and it should be their decision as to how they tackle,’ he said. ‘Of course we need to [ban] head shots, but the tackles we really need to take out of the game are the reckless, out-of-control, sprinting-out-of-the-line ones.

‘It’s not like you can’t get concussed chopping someone’s knees. I see a hell of a lot of concussions from people getting their head on the wrong side, a knee to the temple or even a hip to the side of the head.’

Another outspoken critic, former England flyhalf Andy Goode, questioned the wisdom of effectively having two versions of rugby.

‘How on earth is a team supposed to get promoted from National One and then adjust to playing a completely different way in the [professional] league above or how is a promising young player supposed to learn his trade at a top club and then go out on loan and play the game according to such drastically different laws?’

Meanwhile, former Test referee Nigel Owens said the tackle trial would make the officials’ job ‘very difficult’ and asked a couple questions the RFU had failed to address.

‘If the ball-carrier is going to ground near the tryline, how are you going to be able to get below his waist to tackle him?’ How do you now set up a maul? Because the ball-carrier is on his feet di lui, the defenders wrap around him and you can’t join a maul below the waist.’

READ: Owens red-cards waist tackle law

This tackle trial is the latest in a long list of World Rugby measures to reduce concussion, mainly in response to the threat of lawsuits from those who allegedly sustained brain injuries while playing the game.

At higher levels, a player who takes a head knock leaves the field for a head injury assessment (HIA). They cannot return if they fail the test and the stand-down period for a player who fails was recently extended from five to 12 days. At lower levels, a player suspected of being concussed is shown a blue card and permanently removed from the field.

There’s also been a big clamp-down by referees on ‘dangerous’ tackles that make contact with the attacker’s head in a bid to encourage tacklers to go lower, which hasn’t had the desired effect because tackling above the waist is often the safer option and, in some cases, the only humanly possible option.

Unfortunately for World Rugby, the safety police will not be satisfied until we’re all playing touch rugby, which (coincidentally, I’m sure) the RFU is planning to force English clubs to offer in a bid to ‘save’ grassroots rugby.

The reality is that there will always be the risk of concussion in a contact sport like rugby. No one is forced to play the game, and those who do accept the risk.

World Rugby has done more than enough already to try to reduce that risk, and if it is still too high for some, then there are many non-contact sports for them to choose from.

OPINION: TMO role must be drastically reduced

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *