It was no surprise, then, to see Rugby Australia rule out, for now, introducing something similar. The game has enough points of unfavorable comparison against rugby league, without loading the gun and handing it to V’landys. Increasing sideline intervention versus less sideline intervention, more ball-in-play time versus less, an obscure and never-ending set of laws versus the comparative simplicity of the play-the-ball and set of six. Even the six again. No money versus bucketloads of it.
On the good days, rugby’s complexities make it the most compelling contest going. On the bad days, well … the ARL Commission chair had a point about dipping into your socials to pass the time.
Except, it’s only a matter of time before waist-high tackles will be implemented here. It’s already in use in France, with the added element of banning the ball carrier from dropping their height into the tackle, or bend down and lead with their head. In New Zealand this coming seasoncommunity, school and premier club grades will be trialling a reduction in the tackle height from below the shoulders to below the sternum.
World Rugby is the governing body behind these trials, to varying degrees. Almost 15 years ago, it started trying to manage concussions better in the professional game, and in 2015 started trying to prevent them. Australian Martin Raftery, World Rugby’s chief medical officer for many years, was at the forefront of this process, along with South African scientist Ross Tucker, whose summary of the changes is worth a read.
Now it is a co-defendantalong with the RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union, in a lawsuit brought by 185 former Test and professional players who claim their employers didn’t do enough to protect them from the worst effects of repeated concussions.
Does anyone believe the community game is the end point for the waist-high tackle trial? In seven years the best of the 2023 under-14s will be filtering through to the professional level. This is an attempt to fundamentally and permanently change the game.
Tucker points out that World Rugby, on the recommendation of luminaries including Eddie Jones, Alain Rolland, Paul O’Connell and Agustin Pichot, has tried the softly, softly approach on head injuries which. Oxymoronically, it took the shape of harsh crackdowns on current tackle laws and a growing number of unpopular yellow and red cards accompanied by lengthy stoppages for endless video reviews. the herald reported on the start of that process in 2016. Every Test and Super Rugby season in the past four years, strewn as they have been with red card ‘atrocities’refereeing overreach and accusations the game has gone “soft”, has been an indication of how it’s going.
With that approach failing to force change, World Rugby is shifting focus. As well as coercing professional players, it is now getting in on the ground level, at the grassroots.
Unless the RFU and New Zealand Rugby trials throw some data curveballs, expect to see more and more national unions introduce these measures. Australia will be forced to follow suit. It is a matter of time.
The next question is for how much longer will the NRL be able to keep its head in the sand on head injuries? The two rugby codes have many differences, but as collision sports they are both on a path to reckoning on this issue.
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