DUBLIN (AP) — Any reckless or accidental contact with the head in matches will no longer be tolerated by World Rugby.
The governing body has redefined the law on illegal and high tackles, and increased sanctions to try and reduce the risk of injuries.
They will apply at all levels from Jan. 3, World Rugby announced on Wednesday.
A tackle or attempted tackle will be deemed reckless if the tackler knew or should have known there was a risk of making contact with the head, and did so anyway. It applies even if the tackle started below the shoulders. It includes neck rolls. The minimum sanction is a yellow card, and the maximum a red.
A tackle or attempted tackle will be deemed accidental if a tackler made accidental contact with the head, even if the tackle started below the shoulders. It includes where the ball-carrier slips into the tackle. The minimum sanction is a penalty.
World Rugby ordered referees in early November, before the bulk of the autumn tests, to be stricter on contact above the shoulders. But there were instances in tests, notably the Ireland-New Zealand match in Dublin, where the on-field sanctioning appeared lenient.
The zero-tolerance approach follows research from 2012-15 of more than 600 head injury assessments in 1,516 elite-level matches around the world. The research showed 76 percent of all head injuries occurred in tackles, an injury to the tackler was 2 1/2 times more likely than to the ball-carrier, and tackle height was a contributing factor.
World Rugby said it will be teaching bent-at-the-waist tackling as the best position for injury prevention, and it will check the practicality of a closed trial of a lower tackle height at age-grade level next year.