JOHANNESBURG – FYI, World Rugby is in the process of changing the high tackle rule.
The new trial of the law is set to start at the beginning of the English second tier Champions Cup tournament later this year and will penalise any tackle above the armpit, as opposed to the current interpretation, which is above the shoulder line. It is the intention of the world governing body to implement this change across the board from the beginning of next year.
No. Well. Okay. Fine.
It makes sense to relook and constantly reassess that specific area of the game when one considers that 22 percent of all rugby related injuries are concussions. You’d only need recall Patrick Lambie’s serious head injury last year when he was felled by CJ Stander in the Ireland Test series in June and then a few weeks later again in a Super Rugby encounter, both of which marginalised his play for most of our season, to recognise the seriousness of the condition.
Moreover, in 2016, Bok lock Allister Hargreaves had to retire at the age of 30 from the sport due to concussion related symptoms.
Of course, not everyone is keen on this new interpretation, such as former Scotland lock Jim Hamilton, who tweeted: “I disagree with lowering the tackle line in Rugby. How many players have we seen injured in a “seat belt tackle”? Lowering the point of contact is going to force both the tackler and adjusting tackler to go a lot lower. IMO (in my opinion) this is going to cause more head injuries as a result.”
Well, maybe it will, maybe it won’t.
World Rugby would have us believe that they have done the research, crunched the numbers, weighed the options and drawn a conclusion that necessitates a change in the interpretation of the law.
If we’re being honest, it might be one of their better efforts to make the game safer from schools level into the professional set up. And yet, still a part of me concurs with Hamilton - that the law change is unnecessary - but not for the same reasons.
Every year, every season, World Rugby and its affiliated associations tinker with the laws of the game, they prod here and poke there, trying to “improve” the sport or minimise the risk - hampering the growth of an already technical game, confusing neutrals and forcing fans and referees alike to relearn the game.
To be sure, in this case there can be no arguing that player safety should be of paramount concern to all involved in the game, but some of the other changes World Rugby have imposed have fundamentally changed the game, creating confusion and controversy.
The high tackle law, as are all rules relating to dangerous play, is already a contentious area of interpretation and debate, with decisions altering the momentum of entire matches. There is always the concern that when such an event occurs, that the game is one penalty, yellow or red card away from velitation.
The primary agitation here, is that another law change will compound rugby’s biggest problem: the consistency with which the new interpretation is executed and the severity of the punishment that must be dispensed.
Rugby is already captive to its laws and the referees who have the arduous task of interpreting them on the fly, in the heat of the moment, with thousands of fans ever critical looking down upon them.
Rugby is already the product of technological progression that hampers its fluidity, interjecting many voices with different opinions on a singular event that has pundits and supporters alike questioning every regulation and rule.
Perhaps, in this instance, a tougher stance with clear definitions and justification for sanctioning would be a more prudent reasoning than changing the law and allowing another batch of dodgy conclusions to be postulated and executed.
If rugby wants consistency, its laws must remain consistent, too.