World Rugby will trial rule changes at under-20 competitions that lower the height of tackles to reduce the risk of head injury, particularly concussion, the governing body said on Friday.
The risk of serious injury from collision in the professional game has grown in tandem with the sport becoming faster and more open over the years, leading to calls for new rules to halt the rising tide of injuries.
World Rugby’s trials aim to change player behaviour by lowering the acceptable height of the tackle through a series of revised on-field and off-field sanctions.
“As a rugby father with sons playing at the elite and community level, I am committed to ensuring that rugby remains at the forefront of injury-prevention, specifically in the area of concussion,” World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said.
Research commissioned by the governing body revealed that while 76 per cent of head injuries occur in the tackle, the risk of injury to both players from contact when the tackler is upright is 4.3 times greater than in a low-contact tackle (when the tackler bends at the waist).
At the Under-20 Championship in France, which begins next week, a high tackle warning will be issued if the tackler does not bend at the waist when tackling and there is clear and obvious head contact for either player.
Two high tackle warnings for the same player will trigger an automatic one-match ban.
The trial does not change the law in any way, but does introduce post-match sanctioning through the citing process.
The law defining what constitutes a high tackle will be altered on a trial basis for the Under-20 Trophy, the dates and location of which are yet to be decided.
Currently the acceptable height of a tackle according to Law 9.13 is the line of the shoulders, but this will lowered to “below the nipple line”, the governing body said.
"This trial is designed to remove the tackler's head from a high-risk situation through a deterrent based on a combination of law amendment, sanction and technique change," said World Rugby chief medical officer Dr Martin Raftery.