A drop in height by the defender and a need to avoid dipping late and low has changed how players attack

The tackle height laws will no doubt impact positively on how teams can attack. Before that, we need to consider the changed role of the ball carrier just before contact.

In England, the ball carrier can be penalised for a late dip into a tackle which causes their head to be below their hips. This applies only if the ball carrier is moving forward in open play, not from attempting to score a try or running from the base of a ruck.

Related: How to change your tackle technique for new tackle height laws

Some players dip late, especially when moving between two defenders. This is such a natural movement that it will take some time for players who do this to break the habit. They soon will when they are penalised every time! They can brace for contact though.

Let’s look at the two main ways the attack will improve.


The first consequence of lower tackles will be more opportunities to pass out of contact. The first tackler won’t be able to wrap up the ball in quite the same way as before.

The second player into the contact area can grab the ball but not wrap up the ball carrier. We need to think about these offloads in two categories: dominant and non-dominant offloads.

A dominant offload is where the ball carrier wins the tackle contact, is still moving forward and can pass into the space on either side of the tackle.The next attacker can speed through that space, further denting the defensive line.


A dominant offload, with the ball carrier getting beyond the tackler and the support player running through the gap (Getty Images)

While it was always the ball carriers’ aim to get to the edge, if not beat the tackler, now there are more opportunities to create chaos in the defence by passing behind the tackler. 


The non-dominant offload is where the ball carrier passes back behind the tackle. They won’t have won the contact, but there’s some good news. Because the arms are more likely to be free of the tackle, keeping the ball “off-the-ground” is easier. 

This is important since as soon as the ball carrier lands on the ground, a defender who wasn’t involved in the tackle can grab for the ball. 


A non-dominant offload where the ball carrier has lost the tackle contact but doesn’t allow the next defender to compete for the ball on the ground (Getty Images)

With the ball not wrapped up by a tackler, the falling ball carrier can pop the ball up as they fall or even after they hit the ground. The “jackaler”, the defender who tries to steal the ball, won’t have as many opportunities to reach in because a good attacker will have passed to a team-mate.



The passer has to “cat flap” the ball to a supporting player because they are wrapped up in the tackle. Lower tackles will mean fewer of these types of pass (Getty Images)

Although, in the past, players did offload, Sonny Bill Williams and the Fijian sevens teams made spectacular one-handed passes a common sight. These are normally executed by extraordinary contortions to avoid every effort from a defender to prevent them.

Related: What is the new tackle height law in community rugby?

With the grabbing hands no longer aiming to smother passes out of the tackle, the “chicken-wing” or “cat-flap” passes might not be so prevalent. Attackers can pass out of the tackle without creating space between themselves and the defender, thus keeping both hands on the ball.


The second main consequence will be increased time and space for the attacking team.

Because a defender must dip to tackle, they will have to reduce speed in their approach to the tackle. In a defensive line, the defenders on the edge of the defensive line will also be compromised. Previously they could race up aiming to take “man-and-ball”. 

Though this outside defender can undoubtedly make a simultaneous ball-carrier-receives, ball-carrier-gets-tackled impact, the fact that they can’t block a pass in the same way might put them back on their heels.


Italy get to the edge of the Wales defence to release their winger Aura Muzzo (Getty Images)

A lack of line speed and fewer interventions from edge defenders allow the attack more space to weave their magic. Perhaps we will see fewer “out-the-back” passes where the ball is passed behind an attacker. 

Old-fashioned switch and miss plays might see a comeback. Certainly, in the top-tier women’s club championship in England, where line speed isn’t as quick as the men’s game, the Monday highlight reels are full of successful plays like these.


In summary, the ball carriers will be more upright in attack. First, they need to avoid dipping too much, though they will be able to brace for contact. However, the main reason to stay more upright will be because it allows them to get to the edges of defenders who will be less dynamic.

But they shouldn’t slow down through contact. While it would be preferable for players to avoid contact, they have an excellent opportunity to punch through and pass to a support player as they dent the line.


Keeping the ball alive so the next defender can’t jackal once the tackled player lands on the ground (Getty Images)

Though evidence from France suggests more offloads, don’t expect a basketball festival of passing because the basics of good straight running, accurate passing and support play will always enable good teams to exploit slower line speed.

What do you think of this attacking lower tackle height article? Let us know on social media or email rugbyworldletters@futurenet.com

Download the digital edition of Rugby World straight to your tablet or subscribe to the print edition to get the magazine delivered to your door.

Follow Rugby World on FacebookInstagram and Twitter/X.