RFU to press ahead with lowering tackle height but apologises for ‘anger’ caused

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The Rugby Football Union will press ahead with lowering the tackle height across the community game but has apologised for its handling of a decision that has opened a major rift in the sport in England.

A furious backlash greeted last week’s announcement that from July 1 tackles must be made from the waist down following a unanimous vote by the RFU’s council.

It was hoped the move would support player welfare by reducing head impact exposure in the face of the concussion lawsuits that have been taken out against the sport’s governing bodies.

But there have been strong objections that it would drive people away from the game, have unintended consequences on play and mean that for the first time amateur and professional players will use different laws.

The sudden nature of the announcement, plus the lack of consultation with those it would affect, were also incendiary and on Friday afternoon the RFU said it was “truly sorry” in a statement accompanied by the scientific evidence on which the council based its decision.

However, tackles will still be lowered, with the RFU to discuss with players, coaches, match officials and volunteers over the new height limit amid confusion over whether the waist means the naval or the hips.

“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,” a statement read.

“In our desire to act quickly to reduce head impacts and concussions in the community game, which represents 99 per cent 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.

High tackles are being clamed down on in an attempt to lower the rates of concussion
High tackles are being clamped down on in an attempt to lower the rates of concussion (Mike Egerton/PA)

“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.

“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.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney could face a vote of no confidence
RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney could face a vote of no confidence (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

An RFU council member told the PA news agency that the lack of considered thought behind the announcement was the main source of the uprising from the community game, but stressed that it was an essential decision made to safeguard rugby’s future.

“Rugby is on shifting sands. What game will there be 10 years’ time? The agenda is the welfare of the sport, but I’m worried that that is being lost because of an error by the governing body,” the insider said.

Some clubs, campaigning under the name of the Community Clubs Union, are pressing for a vote of no confidence in RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney.

World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin told the Daily Telegraph that the sport’s global governing body is “looking to make sure that we are implementing a lower tackle height across all parts of the game”, adding that “how that is actually implemented is slightly different in the community game to the elite game”.

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