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New high tackle laws – what exactly is going on?

With a lot of hoo-ha surrounding high tackles recently, RealSport tries to get to the bottom of it all and what needs to change.

It seems to be the hot topic in rugby this season, and World Rugby have stepped in to try and clear up what is and isn’t allowed when going in for a tackle. The whole debate has been launched almost single-handedly by Wales winger George North, who suffered from four blows to head in a spell of five months for Wales and club side Northampton, as officals and referees look to make the game safer for all involved. But have they gone too far? The new rules may be jeopardising what makes the game we all know and love, a sport that is physical, but fair. RealSport looks at just what is going on and whether World Rugby have got this one right once and for all.


The laws

There are two new laws that were issued by World Rugby back in December.

Reckless tackle

“A player is deemed to have made RECKLESS CONTACT during a tackle or attempted tackle … if in making contact, the player knew … THERE WAS A RISK of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway. 

“The sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.

“Minimum sanction: yellow card

“Maximum sanction: red card”


Accidental tackle

“When making contact with another player during a tackle or attempted tackle, if a player makes ACCIDENTAL CONTACT with an opponent’s head, either directly or where the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders, the player MAY be sanctioned. This includes situations where the BALL CARRIER SLIPS into the tackle.

“Minimum sanction: penalty”

I have very little with the ‘reckless tackle’ law. In rugby, it is very rare that a player is attempting to hurt an opponent. Going in for hard tackles or running hard at an opponent isn’t mainly about hurting your opponent, it is to create a high impact to either dislodge the ball or to set or change the tone of the match for your team. If players are deliberating attempting to injure one another, cards must be introduced, and that is what that new law is eradicating. With the use of slow-motion replays available at the top-level, they should be able to get this right nine times out of 10. However, the part in which ‘the sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders’ can cause confusion.

This is to stop players from causing impact in an upward motion. If you aim a tackle and someone’s chest, it is legal, but if after making the initial contact you carry on and hit the head, you will find yourself in the sin bin. This ties in with the ‘accidental tackle’ law, it is difficult to say when making contact with the head is or isn’t accidental, but if it is, surely a pure accident in which it could even be the ball-carrier’s fault ends up with the tackler being punished doesn’t make much sense.

The laws in practice

In the Pro12, three yellow cards were given this past weekend for dangerous tackles. Ulster’s Sean Reidy was sin-binned for a tackle on Scarlets scrum half Aled Davies which ultimately cost the game. The number nine went round the blind side and was clobbered by three Ulster men, but strangely Reidy’s one not the worst effort of the lot. Andrew Trimble clearly used a swinging arm, whereas Reidy made a marginally high tackle on a smaller man, and was sin-binned for it.

Scarlets second row Jake Ball was also given a yellow card in that game, for a challenge in which it looked as if he was trying to dislodge the ball while tackling, and arguably got the neck of his opponent. Finally, and most ridiculously, Sam Davies of Ospreys went in for a high-impact collision with Connacht man John Cooney. Cooney ran at the fly-half, leant in as the tackle was made, and the impact was so big Cooney bounced off his opponent, and it looked very hard to say whether there was contact with the head or not, certainly with no malice involved.

That is where the problem lies, and the referees and the law makers need to use a bit more common sense. The referees and TMOs needs to be trusted more to use their own judgment, rather than have a zero tolerance policy on making contact with the head. If intent is there, then no question they need to be off the pitch, but the officials needs to at least attempt to give the benefit of the doubt to the tackler if things are unclear, as you want to keep as many people on the pitch as possible. It’s a contact sport, contact to the head will be made by tacklers and ball carriers game-in and game-out. World Rugby need to be careful, especially with a Six Nations coming up, as we don’t want these heavyweight matches ending with 13 or 12 players a side.


What do you think of the new high tackle laws? Are referees taking it too far? Let us know in the comments section below.


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Alastair Pusinelli

A 23-year-old sports journalist who covers just about everything on the board. I started at RealSport in February 2016 and have since written on cricket, football, Olympics, rugby, tennis as well as FIFA 17.

Elsewhere, I have been published in The Sunday Times and Variety magazine, as well as working in the offices of Brighton & Hove Albion FC and Hampshire CCC. I am still an active sportsman, playing cricket, football, rugby, tennis and golf... sort of.

New high tackle laws – what exactly is going on?

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