Rugby-RFU to reduce tackle height in junior games for player welfare

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex poses for a picture with children as he visits the Rugby Football Union (RFU) All Schools programme at Lealands High School in Luton, Britain September 12, 2019. Arthur Edwards/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) - The Rugby Football Union (RFU) will change its rule on the height of tackles in junior games next season as part of long-term player-protection plans to reduce concussions in the sport, the governing body said on Monday.

Under the current rules, the maximum height of a tackle in Under-9 to Under-14 games is an imaginary line between the armpits. The maximum height changes to the shoulder level for the U-15 to U-18 age group.

The RFU said that from the 2021-22 campaign, the maximum tackle height will be the armpit level for all players in the age group of U-9s to U-18s.

"While the age grade and professional game cannot be realistically compared, the aim of the law change is to further reduce any community game high risk tackle events by taking two heads out of the same 'air space'," the RFU said in a statement.

The RFU said it would also trial a law next season to further bring down the height of a tackle to the waist level and also restrict late dipping or leading into contact with the head by the ball career.

The trials would be conducted in 1,200 games at U-16 to U-18 levels next season, it said.

Head injuries and concussions and their potential long-term health impact have been in the spotlight in rugby since former players filed a class-action lawsuit against governing bodies including World Rugby alleging a failure to minimise the risks.

Many former rugby players have been diagnosed with permanent brain damage, early onset dementia, depression or symptoms and signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

World Rugby, England's RFU and the Welsh Rugby Union said in a joint statement in December that player safety was their main priority.

"Rugby is a contact sport and while there is an element of risk to playing any sport, rugby takes player welfare extremely seriously and it continues to be our number one priority," the governing bodies said.

(Reporting by Manasi Pathak in Bengaluru; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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