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World Rugby tackling directive sparks uncertainty, but no negative impact for Hong Kong Premiership

All reckless and accidental head contact now attracts a punishment ranging from a penalty to a red card

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 12:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 1:38pm

World Rugby issued a directive this week – which took effect on January 3 – saying there will be a tougher approach to “reckless and accidental head contact”.

The new approach falls into two categories – the reckless tackle and the accidental tackle.

The reckless tackle is where a player “knew or should have known there was a risk of making contact with an opponent’s head but did it anyway” and attracts a minimum of a yellow card and maximum of a red.

The accidental tackle is where a player makes “accidental contact with an opponent’s head during a tackle” and will incur the minimum of a penalty, or a yellow card at worst.

The directive follows heated debate over concussion issues faced by rugby players, with an incident involving Wales international George North making headlines in December.

Playing for the Northampton Saints in the Aviva Premiership, North was clearly knocked unconscious but was allowed to return to the field, sparking calls for the Saints to be sanctioned.

There were a number of further incidents involving head contact and red and yellow cards in the Aviva Premiership, the French Top 14 and the Pro 12 throughout the festive period, often involving lengthy delays and numerous television replays as officials decided the correct penalty.

With the issue in the spotlight, this week’s directive has sparked fears it will change the game forever.

Disgruntled traditionalists are predicting free-flowing games loaded with tries as teams are “inevitably” reduced to 12 or 13 men due to the severity of the new law.

Of course, there are plenty in support as well and it’s not hard to see why when player safety is at the forefront of modern rugby.

The new interpretation will be enforced in the Hong Kong Premiership as of this Saturday, although the consensus among coaches, players and administrators is that the impact should not be too drastic.

“It’s going to be difficult in Hong Kong and other nations because we haven’t got the luxury of TV replays and TMOs,” said Dai Rees, HKRU general manager of rugby performance.

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“We have got to referee live and, to be honest, it’s better for the game in Hong Kong that we are in that position. We will referee what we see. It needs to be clear and obvious.

“We have always been mindful of the safety of the player anyway and we hope that it’s not going to take the game over and we get a situation where you are getting three or four red cards a game.

“We are going to treat it in the manner which it is intended which is the safety of the players.”

The HKRU is educating players on what is and what is not acceptable and Borrelli Walsh USRC Tigers forwards coach and back-rower Sam Hocking says the onus is on them.

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“It is down to the players to execute that tackle properly and I don’t think it will have that much effect on us here in Hong Kong,” Hocking said.

“It’s a case of whether the referees see it and it’s clear and obvious and then we have got to understand and go with their decision.

“It just tightens up the game a little bit and at least all the players know that anything where the head is involved is going to be a penalty or, even worse, a yellow or red card.”

HKFC coach Phil Bailey has a slightly different take on the issue and is confident that it is not only the lack of television replays that will ensure there is no big change to the game here.

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“There are very few incidents of too much malice in this league,” he said.

“Players just have to be aware, especially under fatigue, they have to be in control of their defensive actions.”