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World Rugby’s radical solution to fix concussion crisis

PLAYERS will be suspended for getting concussed under radical new rules being considered by World Rugby to combat head injuries.

The idea is to save players from themselves after exhaustive research revealed that nearly 75 per cent of concussions on a rugby field are suffered by tacklers.

Of that, the vast majority occur when the tackler is upright in contact, colliding heads with the ball runner.

World Rugby now wants to put the onus on the tackler’s technique and is considering banning upright tackles to drastically reduce the number of head injuries in contact.

If a tackler is upright in a tackle and gets concussed, they’d face a suspension on top of their rehabilitation because they’ll be deemed at fault.

No rule changes can be made less than a year out from a World Cup, so the governing body will continue monitoring head injuries in games around the globe for the next year before forming a new set of guidelines from 2020 around what constitutes being fully upright, clear measurements for determining if a tackler is bent at the waist, and the angles of contact so on-field referees can make accurate decisions in real time.

World Rugby recently trialled a “nipple line” tackle trial during the under-20s World Cup but referees found it near impossible to make firm decisions on the run around if a tackle was on the imaginary line or above.

This trial is set to be scrapped in favour of the upright tackle upheaval, and the groundbreaking approach is sure to have ramifications around the world in contact sport, with the NRL monitoring the results.

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World Rugby’s chief medical officer Martin Raftery said the only way to seriously reduce concussion in rugby is to change traditional attitudes.

“The tackle [is] the phase of the game with the most concussive injuries, and then within the tackles it is the tackler, not the ball carrier, who is most at risk,” Raftery said.

“So what we’re trying to do through a number of different processes is to bring the tackle height down, to protect more the tackler than the ball carrier.

“Yes we’ve got to protect the ball carrier as well, but the focus is on the tackler.”

Raftery said this would be achieved through a “high tackle warning system”.

“That’s about penalising a tackler for being in the upright position who has then clear and obvious head contact with the ball carrier,” Raftery said.

“And it doesn’t matter whether the ball carrier is injured or the tackler is injured. If the tackler is upright, when there’s clear and obvious contact, can receive an extra penalty.”

The idea of players getting suspended for injuring themselves is a radical proposition to digest, but World Rugby believes it will be the fastest way to reduce concussions after studying head injuries over the past five years.

Of 611 cases they studied in professional rugby, 464 concussions happened in the tackle, as opposed to lineouts, scrums and jumping in the air. Of those 464 injuries, 335 were suffered by the tackler.

World Rugby wants tacklers to get their heads out of areas where they could collide with the ball runner’s head. Head-on-head contact causes nearly twice as many concussions as contact with other parts of the body, such as elbows, shoulders and hips.

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“Our objective is to protect the player, we’re trying to do it with evidence behind it, not making rash decisions,” Raftery said.

“It seems quite logical; lower the tackle, you’re going to reduce the number of head injuries, it’s not rocket science. If it sounds sensible and is backed by research I think we should be doing it.”

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