A new tackle rule is seemingly coming to South African rugby, one that hopes to make the game safer and more appealing to the public.
On Monday, World Rugby announced that it has recommended to its member unions that the tackle height be adjusted to below the sternum in the community game after trial findings in France, SA, Georgia, and Fiji, “delivered positive advancement in player safety, by reducing the number of head impacts and concussions, and the overall game experience by the supporting of increased ball-in-play flow” – according to the SA Rugby statement.
“This is essential to the sport’s future,” the statement added.
“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 must be the aim for everyone involved in our game.”
Well, when put that way, it sounds like it certainly is the correct direction to take the game. We can all agree that player safety is of paramount importance, and we can all enjoy a more free flowing 80 minutes of action.
Putting aside the argument that that new tackle decree could be more or just as dangerous as the current status quo, due to possible contact with the hip and knee, I must side with former match official Nigel Owen on this one.
Earlier this year, the Welshman commented on the RFU implementing a similar rule, saying: “Most importantly, there needs to be total clarity for the referees because it is a contact sport. It is going to be very difficult, I would think, unless there is total clarity around this to have a shift in the behaviour to referee it.”
And therein lies the crux of the matter.
Rugby’s major problem is not the tackle rule, but rather how it is applied in an inconsistent manner. The same applies to a bevy of its other laws and regulations.
Week-in and week-out, despite the best efforts of administrators, laws are interpreted differently, making for frustration and confusion. What could be deemed as a penalty in one match, is overlooked or construed as perfectly legal a few hours later in another clash.
Common sense has also seemingly escaped the laws. Just the other day, while watching a game, a defending player was yellow carded because an attacking player jumped into him while fielding a high ball. The scrums and breakdown can, at times, be a lottery – a game of Russian roulette where the barrel is loaded in favour of one team, while the other must suffer.
Changing the tackle height is all good and well, especially if it protects its participants, but if rugby is battling now to apply it laws consistently, then it could possibly lead to only more dissatisfaction from the fan base and its players.
World Rugby should concentrate on those grievances, just as much as tackle-safety.