The Executive Board has recommended tackles move to below the sternum

World Rugby’s Executive Board has recommended a global trial of the “belly tackle” in the community game to help reduce head impacts and concussions.

The game’s governing body has encouraged unions to participate in the opt-in trial of tackles below the sternum with the aim of increasing accessibility, safety and enjoyment.

The RFU faced uproar after failing to consult the community game in England before declaring the tackle height would be lowered to the waist and apologised for its handling of the issue in January, promising “a series of forums and workshops”.

Read more: RFU apologises for tackle height handling

World Rugby’s council will meet in May to ratify the move that comes following positive results of a pilot trial in France and the finding of a peer-reviewed study after trials in South Africa that a lower tackle height led to a 31% reduction in concussions.

“If our sport is to continue to grow, we must ensure that we are accessible and relevant to more people around the world,” said World Rugby’s chief executive Alan Gilpin.

“That means never standing still when it comes to advancing player welfare and experience. With compelling emerging evidence showing that a lower legal tackle height means a lower head injury risk, as well as more people playing, we are compelled to act.

“Change can be difficult. We appreciate that there will be sections of the community game who will question this move, but we must not lose sight of the fact that such a change has the ability to enhance enjoyment, reassure parents and welcome many new participants to the sport we all love.”

Gilpin confirmed the move may find its way into the elite game, adding: “While this is a community rugby initiative, we would be open to discussions with unions who may wish to explore the possibility of a future closed trial at the elite level which would broaden research data.

“It must be noted that the elite and community environments are very different, they are essentially different playing experiences and sports.”

National unions have been encouraged to consult with their community rugby game and undertake formal research of the effects of the intervention if they choose to adopt it. Its implementation will be supported by a “comprehensive roadmap of education and resources”.

World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont revealed part of the motivation behind the move was to help ailing playing numbers after the pilot in France helped boost the number of on-field participants.

He said: “It is important that we continue to explore ways that we can make our game as enjoyable and safe to play as possible. The community game is the lifeblood of our sport, representing 99% of our participants, and the proposed tackle height adjustment has already delivered positive game shape and playing experience outcomes in pilot trials – this is essential to the sport’s future.

“The evidence we have, from France in particular, shows that not only does reducing the tackle height make the game safer but it increases numbers playing as well. That has to be the aim for everyone involved in our game.”

If you want to read more about the lowering of the tackle height, Stephen Jones writes about the saga in the Six Nations Spectacular, the latest issue of Rugby World, out now in print and digital.

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