Volume: 16 Issue: 4
The Rugby Football Union (‘RFU’), Premiership Rugby (‘PRL’), and the Rugby Players’ Association (‘RPA’) jointly announced the Professional Game Action Plan on Player Injuries (‘Action Plan’) on 26 March 2018, which includes an ongoing review of the laws that govern tackling within English professional rugby, with the purpose of mitigating injury risk in the game in light of the findings of the 2016/17 Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project report (‘PRISP’). The Action Plan, endorsed by the Professional Game Board, lists eight key areas to be addressed, which could lead to reforms including a potential reduction in the height of a legal tackle.
The aims of the Action Plan are; (1) working with World Rugby on the ongoing review of the laws in rugby and all injury risk, with a focus on reducing concussions and considering the lowering of the legal tackle height; (2) analysing the application of referee decision making to determine whether the increased tackle sanction, which was brought in by World Rugby in January 2017 is being consistently applied; (3) working on optimal match, training and life loads, and club squad size and composition for individualised player management; (4) assessing current training volumes and contact exposure in the PRL; (5) facilitating a workshop to identify potential technical changes to tackling to minimise head contact; (6) benchmarking and auditing medical, conditioning and performance resources across PRL teams to determine if they are sufficient for best practice and injury risk mitigation; (7) developing a game analysis and injury risk resource for the 2018/19 season for a better understanding of the interaction between game events and injury risk; and (8) analysing the risk of artificial grass pitches in comparison to natural turf.
“These reforms are most welcome, it shows the key stakeholders in the professional game accept the duties of care owed to players and are taking proactive steps to try and eradicate some of the horrendous injuries in rugby, which can only be a positive thing in the long run,” said Richard Cramer, Partner at FrontRow Legal. “It’s always tricky when reforms are introduced, and players, whilst fitter, are also stronger and more powerful than ever, and that can have massive implications for players on the receiving end of an injury.”
The Action Plan’s aim to look at the consistency of referees’ application of the increased tackle sanction has raised questions among commentators as to whether the rules have made a positive impact on reducing the frequency of injuries caused by tackling. “Introducing more severe sanctions or reducing the legal tackle height might be the way forward,” adds Cramer. “Players will think twice if they are likely to receive severe suspensions or even financial penalties if their idea is to knock someone’s head off. Thankfully recently there has been a distinction between an accidental and reckless head high challenge.”
Cramer believes that the potential for making progress in diminishing concussions and tackle related injuries in professional rugby without threatening the nature and thrill of the game is the quid pro quo. “Tackling is a technique and there is much thrill sometimes watching a good defensive effort as much as a player’s attacking prowess,” states Cramer. “Change is always difficult, but I think there is a realisation that any tackling around the neck or above is dangerous. Having said that, tackling is part and parcel of the game.”