World Rugby Announces New Measures to Limit Head Contact

David Pocock will hope to make it third time lucky after being named in the six-man list to be crowned World Rugby's Player of the Year for 2015

World Rugby has further strengthened its commitment to injury prevention by announcing details of a zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact in the sport.

In a change to law, World Rugby has redefined illegal (high) tackle categories and increased sanctions to deter high tackles via a law application guideline. This will apply at all levels of the game from January 3, 2017 introducing minimum on-field sanctions for reckless and accidental contact with the head, effectively lowering the acceptable height of the tackle.The guideline will be supported with a global education program.

On January 3, two new categories of dangerous tackles will carry a penalty offense to deter and eradicate high tackles

Reckless tackle

A player is deemed to have made reckless contact during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game if in making contact, the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway. This sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. This type of contact also applies to grabbing and rolling or twisting around the head/neck area even if the contact 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 or during other phases of the game, if a player makes accidental contact with an opponent's head, either directly or where the contact starts below the line of the shoulders, the player may still be sanctioned. This includes situations where the ball-carrier slips into the tackle.

Minimum sanction: Penalty

Global Education Program

World Rugby will support this initiative with a global awareness and education program aimed at:

  • Reinforcing the zero-tolerance culture regarding head contact in the game at all levels using practical advice and visual educational materials
  • Educating that illegal tackles are not necessarily defined by where they start as they can slip up from a legal position to make contact with the neck/head
  • Educating that "bent at the waist” while tackling and entering into contact is the optimal position for injury prevention 
  • Promoting best-possible technique to protect the head – expert advice will be obtained from elite defence coaches to identify the best tackle technique and the best impact position for the ball-carrier, including guidelines on double and treble tackling.

World Rugby is also investigating the practicality of a closed trial of a lowered tackle height at community age-grade level in 2017.