The global game’s governing body is putting the focus on player welfare and has devised an updated learning and training programme which has been years in the making. Two Scots are behind it: Richie Gray, the elite skills and contact coach who has worked with South Africa, Scotland and Fiji and a host of clubs, and Jock Peggie, World’s Rugby’s Head of Education, Laws and Compliance. They have devised new and updated educational programmes – Breakdown Ready and Tackle Ready – which are designed to complement World Rugby’s global law trial to lower tackle height in the community game.
All the material and information is online and free to access and includes video demonstrations, although Peggie and Gray both stressed the importance of face-to-face sessions. “With an average of 176 tackles per game, it is vital to ensure that all players and coaches can perform and coach the tackle safely and effectively,” said Peggie, who received support from Scotland players Richie Gray, Francesca McGhie and Meryl Smith who watched the demonstrations at the Oriam.
Tackle Ready breaks the tackle down into five key stages: tracking, preparation, connection, acceleration and finish. Gray, a collision specialist whose expertise has also been sought in American football, says these fundamentals are relevant to all age groups. “From childhood to retiral, the same principles apply but they are applied by stronger, fitter, faster human beings of all shapes and sizes,” he said.
Part of the reason for World Rugby’s push on tackling is that big changes are planned for next season at grassroots level. In Scotland, a lower tackle height law will be trialed across the community game. It will see tackle height reduced from shoulder to below the sternum, also known as ‘belly tackle’ height. This is being brought in for men and women, adults and youths in the domestic game from Tennent’s Premiership level and below.
It comes after World Rugby-endorsed trials in France and South Africa showed that lowering the tackle height reduces the number of head-on-head contacts and concussions. It will mean big changes for a lot of players in terms of their technique. “Players are going to have to bend better,” said Gray. “It’s going to take time. I think when the new guidelines came in, everybody thought ‘this’ll be done in a month’. But it’s going to take a bit of time to bed this in because it’s actually in some ways a new technique. In a lot of countries, the culture is to tackle around the chest. So you’ve got all these different methods and coaching techniques that players have had ingrained in them that are going to have to be taken out. They need retrained. We’re going to have to practise at getting lower in the tackle. Coaches need to work more on technique.”
Gray has a zealot’s drive to ensure the tackle is done correctly and safely and has urged clubs, coaches and players to embrace the law changes. “If you only talk about it, it’s a waste of time,” he said. “You’ve got to do it, and the only way you’ll make a difference is if you make it important and you measure it.”