RFU admits it got engagement wrong but won't U-turn on plan to lower tackle height in community game


The RFU has issued an apology for the ‘anger, concern and upset’ caused by the governing body’s announcement that the legal tackle height at every level of the game from National League 1 down is to be lowered to the waist ahead of next season (from 1 July).

In its latest statement, the RFU provided the medical evidence behind the decision and apologised for the way it had engaged with rugby’s stakeholders, suggesting it would liaise with the game to properly define the lower tackle height while also engaging in workshops to help explain the law change.

Read more: RFU lower tackle height in community game

The game-changing development, designed to make the sport safer by reducing head injuries, has been met with widespread criticism after it was introduced without consulting clubs.

An organisation called the Community Clubs Union has formed in response and is calling for the resignation of RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney. It now has the support of approximately 280 clubs and is aiming to force a special general meeting.

An RFU statement read: “The RFU Board, Council and executive staff apologise for the anger and concern that has been created among the rugby community by announcing the decision to lower the tackle height from next season.

“In our desire to act quickly to reduce head impacts and concussions in the community game, which represents 99% of the rugby playing population in England, we have upset many of you who are the champions, volunteers, and ambassadors of our game. We fully acknowledge we got the engagement wrong, and we are truly sorry.

“In making our decision we were aware that France have lowered the tackle height, New Zealand will be doing so and World Rugby supports this approach.

“We, like the French, used the term “waist and below”; this has caused misunderstanding and confusion.  We would now like the game to help us define how we describe a lower tackle height to reflect what the research is telling us in a way that is understood by all. Consequently, the risk of head injuries should be reduced if tackling below that optimum height. We will now begin a series of forums and workshops with players, coaches, match officials and volunteers, to explain and develop the details of the domestic law variation.

“A large body of scientific evidence* demonstrates the risk of head injury and concussion for players can be reduced by lowering the tackle height to prevent head on head contact. However, we also accept that the rugby community has other concerns that this change may bring and we need to listen, understand and respond to those concerns. We will start inviting players, coaches, match officials and volunteers to these forums from early next week, so that we can all work together.

*Rationale and evidence paper
*Tackle height science presentation”

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Just two days previously the RFU had issued a statement in response to the backlash to the new tackle height, insisting it understood the radical change would be “challenging”.

It read: “We recognise the change is challenging and the community game has understandably provided significant feedback and the change.

“However, the large body of scientific evidence strongly indicates that it will reduce the incidence of head injuries in the community game and, given the French experience of it over the past few seasons, suggests it is a more exciting game to play and watch.

“There will be further discussion with council members during the next few days before further details on the intent and details around the changes are published to the wider game.”

It has also been suggested in recent days that World Rugby are considering lowering the tackle height in the elite game, however it is now reported the sport’s governing body will wait to see how global trials work out first, before making any plans.

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