World Rugby has announced details of a zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact in the sport.

In a change to the game’s law book, punishment for a high tackle will increase and the acceptable height of a tackle has been effectively lowered.

If a player makes a tackle where they knew there would be risk to an opponents head, the minimum punishment will be a yellow card. That includes a tackle that starts below the shoulders.

If a player makes accidental contact with an opponents head, even in a slipping tackle, the team will be penalised.

The new law could have a instant impact on the game. In the All Blacks’ 21-9 win Ireland last month, under the new rules Malakai Fekitoa could have been red-carded for a reckless high tackle on Simon Zebo instead of the yellow card he received.

Sam Cane would have more likely have been yellow-carded for a accidental high shot on Robbie Henshaw which saw the Irishman stretched from the field.

Former England international and Harlequins defence coach Nick Easter said on Twitter the new rule will bring diving into the game of rugby.

“Goodbye to the game as we know it! Enter play acting/diving to punish tacklers. Madness and bedlam will ensue,” the 54-test veteran tweeted.

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 continues to be proactive in aligning with the latest evidence-based recommendations in this priority player welfare area to ensure players and coaches at all levels of the game are appropriately educated, managed and protected when it comes to head impacts and injury within the environment of a contact sport,” World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said.

“We believe that we are playing a leading role in terms of the development and implementation of best-practice interventions and this important study further reflects our commitment to an evidence-based approach to player welfare. We believe that the invaluable data from this study will inform the law review process and lead to changes in playing or training practices.”

The law change will come in effect from January 3 next year.


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: Yellow card
Maximum sanction: Red card

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