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Why have the New Rugby Union Laws been so Divisive?


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The RFU recently announced that from July this year, we can expect to see some new laws and rulings being enforced within rugby union that will prevent players from tackling above the waist. But while rugby rule changes aren’t necessarily anything we haven’t seen before, this is something that has sent shockwaves across the sport.

Everyone from players to board members and fans has been split over whether or not the new rules will result in a positive or a negative change – and here we’ve taken a closer look at these divided viewpoints. 

What are the new laws?

The height at which players can tackle a ball carrier will now have to be below the waist, a change from the current ruling that allows up to shoulder height. However, for now, this will only apply to all levels below the men’s National One and the women’s Championship One. The RFU believes this will help reduce the chance of head injuries – especially concussions – and players will be penalised should they break this new ruling. 

How has the rugby world responded?

Those supporting the changes have included several sporting bodies and injury awareness groups, claiming this will improve player welfare. In addition to this, the RFU has praised this as a positive and beneficial move that is led by what it calls ‘real data’ and analysis of the game.

However, the backlash has been significant. One of the core criticisms that has been reported is how this will go against the fundamentals of the game. This is perhaps best surmised by New Zealand legend Sonny Bill Williams who pointed out that “rugby is not an evasion sport”. Many former players have also questioned the ‘safety’ element of the rulings, by highlighting how this will bring tacklers’ heads nearer to the knees of ball carriers, possibly increasing the chance of a head injury.

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Some have also criticised the impact this might have on the accessibility of the sport going forward. There’s not a huge amount of time for teams to adopt and adapt to these new rules and how the game itself is played could be affected. For instance, it might be the case that matches become much more stop/start – and less engaging – or teams, and then fixtures and results, become arguably unfair if more players are being penalised and suspended.

What might happen?

With all of this, it does seem that whether or not we see the new laws being rolled out at all levels depends how this initial period pans out. If the RFU deems it a success then it’s quite likely it’ll be adopted by the top clubs and national sides. Equally, if the backlash does continue and there’s no tangible evidence the game is benefitting from the rule changes, the RFU may need to rethink the move. Ultimately, only time will tell, meaning all involved in rugby union may face an anxious and uncertain period in the coming months. 

Bellie Brown
Bellie Brown
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