World Rugby has recommended a law trial which will see the legal tackle height drop to the base of the sternum, Rugby Coach Weekly editor Dan Cottrell explains all

This year will mark a worldwide change to the tackle height in the community game. Already in force in France, unions will be rolling out their own versions after World Rugby approved the law trial.

Underpinned by a need to make the game safer, what does this mean to the players, coaches, referees, and the watching public?

Read more: RFU lower tackle height to base of the sternum

Everywhere is different, but everyone is the same

In general, in most countries, and below professional level (Level three down in the men’s and Championship One down in the women’s in England), tackles will need to be below the sternum.

But before we get too tongue-tied on what exactly is meant by a sternum, this is not the essential point. The essential cue is that the head of the tackler and the head of the ball carrier are not in the same space. 

Related: Hear from the man who writes World Rugby’s tackle guidance in the September issue of Rugby World

If we start from there, it is much easier to see what a safe tackle will look like. 

< This tackle is good.




< But this is in the danger area.


One head near another head is what the referee will be looking for before they work through their checklist for danger. For coaches and players, they need to think how they are going to adjust their approach to tackle training, so the heads aren’t in the same space. 

For some unions, this includes the actions of the ball carrier too.

Think pace when thinking of danger

You can see by the RFU’s tackle height flow chart that the mitigating factors are mostly dictated by the pace of either the tackler or the ball carrier.

Credit: RFU


< Looks like the ball carrier (white) has dipped, so the left-hand tackle is unlikely to be worse than a penalty. If the ball carrier had been running with any pace and dipped, then it might be penalty to the defence.

The RFU has included the height of the ball carrier as a potential act of foul play. If a ball carrier dips ‘low and late’ into a tackle, leading to a head-on-head, or shoulder-on-head contact, then this is a danger flag to the referee. 

However, if the ball carrier moves from the back of the ruck (pick and go), this isn’t a dangerous dip. The speed is very low. 

In the case of attempting to score a try, while there may be rare cases of increased speed acting as a danger, most ball carriers tend not to dive into a defender but aim to get to the side. Diving and dipping for the try line will not be penalised.

A ball carrier in open play who dips late as they are running, thus making a tackler’s job almost impossible, could be penalised. On the other hand, it will be fine if they slow up and brace for contact. This is hardly a dip to move forward.

The pace of the tackler

The tackler’s pace and intention as they make the tackle will then help us decide on the level of danger. 

A passive tackle, which is one where the tackler accepts the ball carrier’s momentum, is unlikely to be high danger. If there is a head space invasion, it might just be a penalty, especially if the tackler was at least trying to get lower.

A more aggressive tackle is likelier to be yellow carded if there is a head space invasion. Remember that the shoulder will impact above the sternum, so heads are too close together. 

Tackle height law: Look for the bends

< The tackler (in white) is pretty upright. This looks like a penalty, at least, and if the tackle was dominant, then we might be looking at a yellow card.

The tackler must be bending. Bending happens in two obvious places, the hips and the knees. 

The referee will be looking at the angle of those hips and shoulders, and the more towards the upright, the less likely there will be a bend.

A tackler racing off the line will find it hard to bend, so looking at the pace of the tackler again helps us to decide where the problems will arise.

The most likely dangerous tackles in height will come from the front or front/side (fried!) tackles. Side-on or rear tackles might end up “high”, but these will be penalties, at worst in most cases, because the tackler is chasing the ball carrier, not meeting them.

Tackle height law: The second tackler

< The lower blue tackler has made a tackle, and the second blue tackler is looking to rip the ball. If they had driven into the ball carrier, then it could be tackle, then rip, so a possible penalty.

In England, you are still allowed multiple tacklers per ball carrier. The laws apply equally. However, it is still possible to rip the ball from the ball carrier. It won’t be a tackle though, because the ripper won’t be impacting with their shoulder.

Coming up in our tackle height blog series:

Relearning to tackle: how to change your tackle technique

Relearning to attack: opportunities and threats for attackers

What training should look like

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