Rugby Australia will not ban tackles above the waist as Wallabies star Drew Mitchell’s marks become ‘dramatic’
Rugby Australia (RA) will not follow their English counterparts in banning tackles above the waist – a move Wallabies legend Drew Mitchell called “a bit dramatic”.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU), which governs rugby union in England, recently announced the most drastic change to the game in recent memory.
Starting July 1, amateur players of all ages must tackle an opposing player at or below the waist in an attempt to reduce the number of serious head injuries.
Chest tackles will be made illegal at National One and lower in men’s play and Championship One and lower in women’s rugby – but Australia will not follow suit.
Wallabies legend Drew Mitchell has applauded Rugby Australia for not following the lead of their English counterparts, who recently banned tackles above the waist.
“We naturally benefit from a huge amount of research undertaken by World Rugby and we work with them and other national unions to maximize the welfare of players at all levels,” an RA spokesperson told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Our main focus for 2023 remains correct tackling technique – which is essential to player safety – and we will continue to prioritize this for all coaches in 2023.
‘Specific discussion on the implementation of this measure [waist and below tackles] did not take place,” the spokesperson said.
Taniela Tupou looks to stop Springbok Francois Steyn with an arm around his chest and neck. A tackle like this would be banned in amateur English rugby
It was a decision applauded by Wallabies legend Drew Mitchell, who is currently one of the most respected commentator figures in the game.
The 71 Test veteran said while he realized head injuries and concussions were an understandable goal for the game, something like that drastic ‘height and lower tackle’ decision was almost like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Mitchell pointed out, like other union legends, that forcing people to tackle lower also puts heads in more vulnerable positions.
Drew Mitchell (left) with fellow rugby commentators Alana Ferguson and Justin Harrison. Mitchell said officials had to be very careful when making changes to fight laws
“I think it’s a bit dramatic. A few years ago nipple height was introduced and quickly phased out. I understand what they’re trying to do…but I think this one is way off the mark and goes too far,’ Mitchell’s scathing retort came to the Herald.
“I would implore Rugby Australia to sit down and watch from afar.
“There have to be flow effects too. If you can’t attack someone above the waist and every attacking player has their hands free on every run… while trying to take one thing out, we open something else,’ Mitchell said.
England’s Joe Cakanasiga (centre) is tackled by several Argentinian players around the chest
USA star Will Hooley is hit with a head-high shot during the Rugby World Cup in 2019. The new RFU guideline aims to prevent head injuries from tackles like this
England legend Andy Farrell, one of the toughest players to ever play, agreed.
When kicking off the Six Nations, which start on February 5, the current Irish manager said the new law could introduce a “serious problem”.
‘I think it’s super important that what has to come with [the new laws] is the right training, the right technique,” Farrell told reporters.
“If you ever just tell a kid ‘you need to tackle lower’, you become even more vulnerable.” If you’re just sitting there with your arms out, trying to wrap your head around, head down, etc., you’re a sitting duck. It’s an imminent accident.
Ireland manager and former England great Andy Farrell (left, pictured with skipper Johnny Sexton at the Six Nations launch) believes the RFU made the wrong decision by lowering the tackle heights
Farrell’s Irish captain, star fly-half Johnny Sexton, would know a thing or two about head injuries.
The 109 Test, 91kg Leinster superstar has suffered multiple concussions during his long career but he doesn’t believe tackling from the waist and below alone is the answer.
“I don’t agree with that. There’s no point sitting on the fence, is there?” I just think you have tall people playing the game. It should be their decision as to how they go about it,’ Sexton said at the launch.
“Of course we have to take head shots out of the game, but the tackles that we really need to take out are reckless, out of control, sprints off the line, tucked arms, all those types of shots.
“Hitting someone in the chest should be an option. It’s not like you can’t get a concussion from cutting into someone’s knees.
“I’ve seen a bunch of concussions in people who put their head the wrong way, a knee to their temple or a hip even to the side of their head. So I strongly disagree,” Sexton said.
Ireland fly-half Johnny Sexton, pictured receiving the attention after a huge knock against Wales in 2021, is also adamantly opposed to the idea of reducing tackles
It would seem that many, even in the northern hemisphere, have exactly the same opinion as Rugby Australia, who have yet to even consider the ‘size and below’ rule.
But former hooker Brian Moore, who packed for England in 64 Tests, implored the current generation of players to give it a shot, given the plight of those with concussions.
“What if we stopped predicting disasters and tried to make it work? It will take time, patience and probably revisions before it works as it has been shown to do,” he wrote in the London Telegraph.
To the players, I say it is your health and your career that are at stake. For your sake and that of your colleagues, adhere to this.
He and the RFU face an uphill battle to get them to do so.