World Rugby issues new guidelines on high tackles and shoulder charges

Framework allows less leeway for referees to make judgment calls

England’s Owen Farrell tackles South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen during the Autumn International match at Twickenham. Photograph:  Adam Davy/PA Wire

England’s Owen Farrell tackles South Africa’s Andre Esterhuizen during the Autumn International match at Twickenham. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA Wire

 

World Rugby has issued its clearest guidelines yet in clarifying what constitutes a penalty, yellow card or red card in the instances of shoulder charges and high tackles.

The game’s governing body has outlined a new decision-making framework which will come into effect at Test level immediately, although not in any competition which is already taking place, such as Super Rugby. Given this concerns player safety, it’s surprising it doesn’t come into effect across the game immediately.

The framework allows less leeway for referees and their fellow officials to make judgment calls, but it should lead to more consistency.

One of the primary aims of the new framework is to reduce the occurrences of concussion. World Rugby’s statement said: “Reflecting the international federation’s evidence-based approach to reducing the risk of concussion, the ‘decision-making framework for high tackles’ was developed in partnership with union and competition delegates attending the player welfare symposium in France in March and includes player, coach, match official and medic input.

“It is a simple-step by step guide with the purpose of:

“Improving the consistency in application of on-field sanctions by distinguishing between dangerous tackles that warrant a penalty, yellow card or red card

“Supporting protection of the head of both players by consistently and frequently sanctioning the tackle behaviour that is known to be the highest risk.”

World Rugby’s statement added: “With research demonstrating that 76 per cent of concussions occur in the tackle, with 72 per cent of those to the tackler, and that head injury risk is 4.2 times greater when tacklers are upright, the framework is aimed at changing player behaviour in this priority area, via the promotion of safer technique and builds on the January 2017 edict on tougher sanctioning of high tackles.

“Available as a step-by-step PDF, the framework is also supported by an educational video and illustrates what match officials are looking for when determining a sanction.”

World Rugby has also issued a clear and helpful video examining high profile cases of shoulder charges or high tackles on its website.

One of these was Owen Farrell’s high shoulder charge on South Africa’s André Esterhuizen in the late stages of England’s win over the Springboks at Twickenham last November. At the time, despite being reviewed, Farrell’s high hit was not even sanctioned with a penalty, but World Rugby’s video confirms that Farrell’s shoulder charge should have resulted in a penalty and a yellow card.

The framework has been welcomed by Owen Doyle, the former international referee and former IRFU head of referees, who wrote in The Irish Times last week of the need for World Rugby to issue clearer guidelines on shoulder charges.

“It’s a pretty good initial attempt to establish consistent key factor for accurate decision-making in terms of shoulder charges and high tackles. This spells it out pretty clearly, I’ve got to say.”

The game’s governing body have provided definitions of both shoulder charges and high tackles.

A shoulder charge is defined thus: “Arm of the shoulder making contact with the ball carrier (BC) is behind the tackler’s body or tucked in ‘sling’ position at contact.”

A high tackle is: “An illegal tackle causing head contact, where head contact is identified by clear, direct contact to BC head/neck; or the head visibly moves backwards from the contact point; or the ball carrier requires an HIA.”

World Rugby has also outlined which of these merit a penalty, yellow card or red card.

Red Card

  • Shoulder charge (no arms tackle) direct to the head or neck of the ball carrier, and mitigation is not applied
  • High tackle with any contact between the tackler’s shoulder or head and the Ball Carrier’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
  • High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm, direct to the BC’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied

Yellow Card

  • Any red card offence where mitigation is applied (as per framework)
  • Shoulder charge to the body (no head or neck contact), with high degree of danger
  • High tackle with any contact between the tackler’s shoulder or head and the BC’s head or neck, with low degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
  • High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm, direct to the BC’s head or neck with low degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied
  • High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm, which starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up to the BC’s head or neck, with high degree of danger, and mitigation is not applied

Penalty

  • Any yellow card offence where mitigation is applied (as per framework)
  • Shoulder charge to the body (no head or neck contact), with low degree of danger
  • High tackle with first contact from the tackler’s arm, which starts elsewhere on the body and then slips or moves up to the BC’s head or neck, with low degree of danger and no mitigating factors
  • High tackle with first contact above or over the shoulder of the ball carrier, but without contact to the head or neck of the ball carrier during the execution of the tackle (seat belt tackle)
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