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  • Writer's picturePaul Struthers

Moya Musings - Lead the horse to water!

Moya Musings are shorter thought pieces on recent news items across sport

So I see the RFU has announced a significant change to the tackle rules in age-grade and grassroots rugby, lowering the height from not above the shoulder (or below an imaginary line under the arm pit for age grade rugby) to not above the waist line.

Cue outrage on Twitter from grassroots players and coaches alike, with the overwhelming majority of responses decrying the move as ‘the end of the game’, saying it will ‘cause more concussions’ and that this season ‘will be my last’.

Now, I completely understand most people are resistant to change and significant ones like this always attract kneejerk reactions, especially on Twitter.

This decision would have attracted criticism of the RFU no matter how they announced it. But in my view, at least some of the criticism could have been avoided if the RFU had taken a couple of simple steps.

Most importantly, they should have included with the announcement at least some initial education materials, graphic images, videos and FAQs demonstrating the new tackle height.

Much of the criticism stems from people assuming you now can only tackle around the legs, which is not the case – waist height is the space between the top of the hip and the ribs. Where do a lot of people get their news these days? Twitter. What vehicle is great for using imagery and video to explain things? You guessed it, Twitter.

Secondly, the RFU’s release made reference to studies and trials but outside of a single mention of “a 63% reduction in head-on-head contact” following the trial in France, absolutely no other detail of the evidence that led to this decision.

That just doesn’t make sense to me as some data is already out there and is impressive:

“Initial feedback from the Fédération Française de Rugby (FFR) is positive, suggesting a more expansive game in addition to compelling player welfare benefits as outlined by the French Rugby Federation:

  • Threefold reduction in match injuries so far

  • 60 per cent decrease in head impacts

  • 31 per cent increase in line breaks

  • 67 per cent decrease in kicks

  • Significant reduction in winning margins”

Image of a waist from

Of course taking those two steps would not have eliminated criticism - far from it - but it would have made a big difference. Indeed the kickback for not taking those two steps was anticipated by the RFU in the very release that’s caused the outcry!

“We understand this is a significant change and the game will have questions around the detail of the new law variation, what it means for coaches and players and how the tackle will be refereed during different phases of the game, for example close to the goal line versus counter attacks in open play.
Detailed FAQs and training materials will be provided over the coming weeks to give clarity for the game.”

As a qualified coach and fan of rugby, I actually support the move but even I had to double check what the definition of where the waist was and make an effort to read more about the trial in France (having already read about it previously). We should not leave people, or expect them, to do that of their own volition when it's so straightforward to give them the information in an easily digestible way.

Yes, you can lead a horse to water and can’t force it to drink. But don’t make your life harder by forcing Dobbin to have to find the water in a naturally hostile environment in the first place. Chances are Dobbin won't.

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