SYDNEY (Reuters) - Rugby Australia (RA) have announced a two-year trial from next season of a new law that outlaws any tackle above the sternum at all levels of the game below Super Rugby.
The global game has been grappling with the long-term health consequences of repeated concussions in recent years and there are now harsh penalties for head contact at all levels.
Australia joins New Zealand, South Africa and France in trialing the new tackle law and hopes to see similar results in terms of a reduction in concussions in the game.
New Zealand has just extended its trial of the tackle law for another two years and Michael Procajlo, RA's General Manager of Community Rugby, said it was unlikely Australia would ever go back to tackling above the sternum if the results were similar.
"The other results are really positive so if that does continue over the next two years, the realistic possibility of going back is minimal," he told reporters in Sydney.
"When we're talking about having a reduction in risk that's 4.2 times, that's pretty significant across the number of players that we're talking about here.
"But it's important to note that (although) player safety is always at the forefront of our decisions, as part of this trial game metrics are being analysed so the shape of the game continues to meet expectations."
Procajlo said he expected there to be an initial spike in penalties as players got accustomed to the new rules but thought that would settle down.
"We would expect through the transition period that we might see that but what we've seen in France, at least, is that's starting to come back (down)," he added.
Piper Duck, a flanker for the ACT Brumbies women's team, said she thought dominant tackles would still be possible and that lowering the level of risk might make more parents allow their girls to play rugby.
A rash of lawsuits from former players who say they suffered brain injuries from repeated concussions sustained while playing rugby present a major threat to the finances of the game.
"Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game," said RA Chief Executive Phil Waugh.
"Obviously it is impossible to remove all risk from the game, however we firmly believe that promoting safer tackle techniques, and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will lead to an even safer game."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)