Rugby around the globe has seen the implementation of a change in application for illegal (high) tackles and increased sanctions since Jan. 3. This applies to all levels of the game, introducing minimum on-field sanctions for reckless and accidental contact with the head, effectively lowering the acceptable height of the tackle.
“Safety is paramount, and referees and players have a combined responsibility to ensure that the game is played with control and discipline,” USA Rugby High Performance Referee Manager Richard Every said. “We welcome the direction and are providing additional GUIDANCE to establish a consistent approach across all levels. There will undoubtedly be a period of adjustment for players and match officials, and we will support the transition through the referee department with open communication and continued education.”
This has not created new “illegal actions;” rather, it adjusts the standard on how dangerous actions are sanctioned. It does not allow the ball carrier to manufacture penalties. “Other phases” mentioned are aimed primarily at actions such as the “gator roll,” where there is a real risk of grasping the head/neck area. Fending off to the face is still legal at all levels except high school.
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: Penalty & Yellow card / Maximum sanction: Penalty & Red card
GUIDANCE: It is a deliberate action from tackler. The onus is on the tackler to ensure the tackle is safe with regards to above the shoulder and contact in the head and neck area. It will be up to the referee to differentiate the severity of the tackle and what sanction is appropriate – a good process would be to combine the level of recklessness with the outcome and effect on the tackled player.
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
GUIDANCE: It is an accidental action from tackler. Contact above the shoulder in the head and neck area was not due to a deliberate or reckless action from the tackler.
For further guidelines please review the World Rugby release which includes several video examples.