Thursday 14 December 2017

World Rugby increases sanctions to crack down on head-related offences

Wasps coach Dai Young. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Wasps coach Dai Young. Photo: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

World Rugby yesterday doubled-down on their zero-tolerance around the tackle area by revising their disciplinary sanctions for the year ahead.

The governing body are increasing the length of bans for offences involving head injuries to bring the punishment into line with their on-pitch policy which comes into effect officially this week.

Referees have been hardening their stance on high tackles - accidental or otherwise - since the law change was announced and coaches have been railing against their implementation already.

And now disciplinary officials will hit offenders with harsher sanctions for anything related to concussion as those running the game continue to get to grips with the issue.

In particular, they have increased the length of ban as an entry point for strikes to the head area, while they have also introduced a number of punishments around abuse and contact with officials.

The governing body are also looking to modernise their hearing process by having three-man panels comprising "two individuals with recent experience of the professional game (playing, coaching or refereering)" where possible as well as a lawyer.

They have also vowed that they will attempt to expedite the often laborious process of scheduling and hearing a player's case.

The changes take effect immediately.

The focus on concussion complements World Rugby's increased focus on concussion and work to limit the number of head injuries.

They examined more than 600 incidents that led to Head Injury Assessments in 1,516 games between 2012 and 2015 before introducing their tackle amendments.

They found that 76pc of all head injuries occur in the tackle and that tacklers have a two-and-a-half times (72pc) greater chance of being injured than the player they're tackling.

The changes are designed to lower the body position of tacklers to protect themselves, but they have not been universally welcomed even before they were formally adopted.

Sale supremo Steve Diamond, Wasps coach Dai Young and the now-departed Leicester director of rugby Richard Cockerill all spoke out about punishments for their players before the changes get under way and the coming high-stakes European games will only ramp up the pressure on referees.

There has already been a marked increase in red cards during this season's Champions Cup and with the yellow card now the minimum sanction for any "reckless" contact with the head that trend is hardly going to be reversed.

World Rugby introduced two new categories of foul play that take effect this weekend.

The first states that: "A player is deemed to have made reckless contact during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game if in making contact, the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway.

"This sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders.

"This type of contact also applies to grabbing and rolling or twisting around the head/neck area even if the contact starts below the line of the shoulders."

The second stipulates that: "When making contact with another player during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game, if a player makes accidental contact with an opponent's head, either directly or where the contact starts below the line of the shoulders, the player may still be sanctioned.

"This includes situations where the ball-carrier slips into the tackle."

The minimum sanction for the second offence is a penalty.

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