2017 High Tackle Directive

Hi All,

As we’re getting ready for the 2017 Spring season, I wanted to give some more detail on some of the big changes that are coming this season, mainly around the new high tackles directive and other law changes this year.

New High Tackle Directive:
We are seeing some confusion, and lack of clarity on the referee and coaching sides as to what actions we expect referees to take regarding high tackles. I.e. What exactly has changed since last year?
From what I can tell, there is a fairly broad agreement from the rugby community that bringing the height of the tackle down is a positive development, but there is some concern as to exactly what the different versions of a high tackle are, and fears about inconsistency amongst referees.
Let’s hit the second part first. It is almost inevitable that there will be inconsistency for the first few games of the year, until we all gain some experience with the new directive – be prepared to acknowledge that with coaches and players. But, also be prepared to be able to explain your actions and decisions.

Important to note that there has been no change to the laws regarding dangerous tackles, what has changed is that the referees are being instructed to increase the sanction for a particular subset of dangerous tackles – tackles involving contact with the head and neck areas.
In gross outline, what would most often have been a penalty only last season, is now a Penalty + Yellow Card, and what would have been a PK+YC last year is now to be judged as a PK + Red Card. The goal is not to have the refs give more cards, but rather to make the players change their behaviors and to tackle lower and more safely.

Here’s the directive we have received from USA Rugby as to how it is to be interpreted in games under their control:

This week rugby around the globe will see the implementation of a change in application for illegal (high) tackles and increased sanctions. This will apply at all levels of the game from 3 January 2017 introducing minimum on-field sanctions for reckless and accidental contact with the head, effectively lowering the acceptable height of the tackle.

Richard Every, High Performance Referee Manager for USA Rugby added, “Safety is paramount, and referees and players have a combined responsibility to ensure that the game is played with control and discipline. We welcome the direction and are providing additional GUIDANCE (below) to establish a consistent approach across all levels. There will undoubtedly be a period of adjustment for players and match officials, and we will support the transition through the referee department with open communication and continued education.”

This has not created new “illegal actions” but rather adjusts the standard on how dangerous actions are sanctioned. It does not allow the ball carrier to manufacture penalties. “Other phases” mentioned are aimed primarily at actions such as the “gator roll”, where there is a real risk of grasping the head/neck area. Fending off is still legal at all levels except high school.

Reckless Tackle
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. Minimum sanction: Penalty & Yellow card / Maximum sanction: Penalty & Red card
GUIDANCE: It is a deliberate action from tackler. The onus is on the tackler to ensure the tackle is safe with regards to above the shoulder and contact in the head and neck area. It will be up to the referee to differentiate the severity of the tackle and what sanction is appropriate – a good process would be to combine the level of recklessness with the outcome and affect on the tackled player.

Accidental Tackle
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. Minimum sanction: Penalty
GUIDANCE: It is an accidental action from tackler. Contact above the shoulder in the head and neck area was not due to a deliberate or reckless action from the tackler.

For further guidelines please review the World Rugby release which includes several video examples: http://laws.worldrugby.org/?domain=9

Useful Video:
Sky Sports in the UK have released this video will former England center Will Greenwood and WR International referee John Lacey explaining some of the differences between Reckless and Accidental, and when you would determine whether a Reckless tackle should have a Yellow Card or a Red Card associated with it.

For those of you who like checklists, I’ve also seen it broken down this way (in terms of how a referee should look at the elements of an individual tackle):

Refs are judging according to 4 criteria:
1. Was there Foul play?
2. Did it Start high / direct contact to the head / rise up as part of the tackle?
3. Was it Out of control / should the tackler have known the hit would be high
4. Was it forceful?

Some mitigation taken into account if the ball carrier ducks into contact – so refs are bing asked to adjudicate who initiated contact, with onus on tackler to be the more responsible one involved.

If the ref sees the criteria above then the decision cycle is:
1+2 = Penalty Kick for foul play (Dangerous Tackle). Note: cumulative for team / repeat Foul play cards.
1+2+3 = PK + Yellow card
1+2+3+4 = PK + Red card

In adult rugby the “High Tackle line” is the line of the shoulders, in Youth and High School Rugby it is the line of the armpits

Global Law Changes:
USA Rugby has decided not to implement the 2017 Global law changes until August 1st 2017. So for the vast majority of us, no change.
For those who will referee or AR in BC, or in BCRU games, Rugby Canada IS implementing the Global Law changes as of January 1st 2017. There are 5 changes to law, some of which will make a significant difference to how incidents are adjudicated, so if you are assigned a Canadian game, please make sure you know what these changes are. Check in with Buckley, Clavin, Kautz, or Wickman if you need someone to talk them over with.