In Defence of the High Tackle Laws

Much has been made of the high tackle laws and the way in which they are being interpreted. Controversial red cards given out to George Smith and Will Spencer have caused uproar in the rugby world. Coaches and players alike have claimed the game has gone soft and the laws are ruining the game. However, these statements are clearly doing more damage than good and are misguided and short sighted.

This article aims to defend the way that the high tackle laws are being applied. Also to provide some perspective as to why they are being interpreted in this way. This will show that player safety if far more important than preventing the game from going ‘soft’.

The laws have not actually changed

First of all, it is important to note that the laws themselves have hardly been altered. It has never been legal to hit above the shoulder line and nor should it ever be. So when you hear people hark on about mass changes to the law it is simply not true.

What has changed is the interpretation and punishments for infringing upon the laws. More severe punishment have been brought in in order to attempt to lower the tackle height and in turn lower the rate of concussions.

It is widely agreed that high tackles are a main cause of concussions in comparison to other rugby situations. Hence it is only logical that World Rugby would want to lower the tackle height in order to change this.

To claim that the game has gone soft as a result is simply ridiculous. The game is the hardest its ever been. Collisions happen at faster speeds with heavier impacts owing to the size and power of professional players these days. Although some players have come out and said they accept the risk this is not good enough. Players to a degree need to be protected from themselves and that is what these changes are trying to implement.

Players can control where they hit

An excuse made by opponents to these laws argue that no-one aims to hit the head and incidents are accidental. Therefore they argue that a red card is too harsh a punishment. These people often cite a player ducking into contact or altering their height late. Some even go as far as to suggest that the ball carrier is ducking purposefully to win a penalty.

This argument is simply incorrect and only works if the tackler is trying to hit the ball or the chest region. It would be an unbelievable case to see a player aiming to hit at waist height yet still manage to be penalised for a high tackle.

Yes, players do move late and this can result in the tackler missing their intended target area.  However if the tackler is already aiming at the chest or ball then they are only a foot or so from a high tackle anyway.

Looking at the Will Spencer incident, Tommy Taylor does duck slightly into the tackle and Spencer is a tall man. However at no stage is Spencer ever going to hit any lower than the chest. If he aimed at the waist or lower then he would not have been penalised. He had every opportunity to do this yet he chose to run the risk of a high tackle.

Trial by social media

These incidents, especially Will Spencer’s, have really brought out the worst of social media. With players, fans and coaches all voicing their opinions and often entering into heated arguments. Calling into question the integrity of the game and officials many have made rash statements and which have caused far more damage than intended.

The most frustrating part of all this had been that the response to these incidents will mean there is likely to be no effect on player behaviour. It is understandable that fans want to see big collisions but this should not come at the expense of player welfare.

The fact that much of the rugby community seems to be against the laws will mean that no player will feel obliged to change their behaviour. Hence we will see more yellow and red cards for similar incidents until as a community we come together and accept the regulations and the reasons for them.

Should the laws go further?

A controversial trial in the Championship Cup will see the high tackle line lowered from the shoulder to the armpit. This has been met with much indignation from sections of the rugby community.

This reporter for one is in favour of this trial; Simply because it simplifies the situation greatly. This will then allow for the high tackle to be refereed much more effectively across all levels of the game should it be implemented.

The game we play and watch is much more than the professional side of things and this trial should make a positive difference in the way its refereed. Officials at local level who do not have the benefit of the TMO will have a much simpler job with a much simpler law.

Concluding thoughts on high tackle laws

Has our game gone soft? Of course not. If you want to see players repeatedly hit in the head then you are watching the wrong sport. Players have control of the height of their tackle and need to change their behaviour if they do not want to be penalised. Simple as that.

Player safety has to be paramount and should not be sacrificed. We can only hope that the rugby world comes together to accept the changes and supports them. Otherwise we will continue to have incidents that detract from the sport that we all love.

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