Rugby braces for era of change to boost player safety post-Japan

Rugby union could look very different after the World Cup. How different will become more apparent this week when World Rugby’s Law Review Group (LRG) meets in London today and tomorrow to decide on which player welfare-based rule amendments to pursue on a trial basis.

This is the first time that the global governing body has sought to introduce rules purely with player safety in mind and the proposals embraced this week will be forwarded to the Rugby Committee for potential implementation for the next four-year World Cup cycle.

Among those suggestions is the 50:22 kick idea. This would award possession at the lineout to teams that kick the ball from their own half and out of touch via the opposition 22. The hope is that it would persuade teams to pull players back from the defensive line and create more space for the attacking side.

A reduction in the number of permitted replacements, tweaks to delay the movement of the defensive line and restrict defending players at the ruck, a lowering of the tackle height and the facility to review yellow cards after a player has been sent to the sin bin for dangerous play, are other measures being considered.

These have become known as the ‘Marcoussis proposals’ after the meeting last March at the HQ of the French union where delegates considered global injury trends and chewed on statistics confirming that ball-in-play time has spiked by 50% in the last 30 years and tackles by 252% in the same period.

Basically, rugby is a game that has changed beyond recognition and there is a growing awareness that health and safety has to be prioritised as the players become stronger, faster and bigger and the hits get harder and land with much greater frequency.

Studies show that the tackle accounts for half of all injuries in rugby and three-quarters of all concussions. The LRG will also examine detailed proposals from the French Rugby Federation regarding the tackle and other proposals in relation to the sevens game as well as the Rugby X competition, launching this October.

The meeting in London will see law experts, players, coaches, referees and elite competition representatives meeting. Among the delegates will be IRFU performance director David Nucifora, David Jordan of the PRO14 and World Rugby CEO Brett Gosper.

The group will also consider the latest data from the recent World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina where a high-tackle technique warning system was used in an attempt to combat concussion and other injuries.

First used at the same event last summer, the system is designed to punish players with two high-risk tackle technique earnings with a one-match ban. First-time offenders can have warnings rescinded if proof is available that steps have been taken to correct the tackle technique.

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