Former British & Irish Lion Ben Kay believes that the lowering of the tackle height that the Rugby Football Union (RFU) are introducing in grassroots rugby is ‘coming’ for the elite game.
The RFU’s handling of plans to lower tackle height in the community game have faced criticism in recent week. The move, made amid increasing concerns about how head impact exposure and concussions affect players’ health, would affect English clubs in divisions below the Premiership, Championship and Premier 15s.
The furore over the decision saw the RFU issue an apology over the way the news was handled.
“I know why it’s being done,” said Kay. “For it to be so far-reaching without a trial is interesting. It seems to me to be a reaction to the legal side of it. I have concerns about it, but I think we might be missing where the benefits will come from.”
Kay thinks the law change will have knock effects that will lower the numbers of concussions in the game and it’s not directly as a result to change in the tackle zone.
“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the tackle at all, I think the benefits will come from the fact that there’ll be less rucks. Because people can offload, or their hands will be free when they land after a tackle so they can pass off the floor, we’ll get less rucks. If there are less instances of rucks, you’re going to get less chances of head contact, less jacklers being in that position getting smashed there.
“The worry from an ex-player’s point of view is taking away players’ ability to make decisions in the tackle. When we think of a tackle, we think of the perfect opportunity to make a tackle. But often it’s not the perfect opportunity, and that’s why some of the head collisions occur.
“I also think there’s a massive issue that needs addressing, which is ball carriers bending at the waist. That can cause the biggest problems. If they do that, it can be very, very difficult to make safe tackles and wrap your arms because as soon as you’re going in that low, you’re trying to get your arms in an unnatural position. Some people don’t have the shoulder flexibility to do it.”
The former England forward admitted he had sympathy for those that have been upset but the sudden law change will be brought in this July.
“I totally understand why the community game is upset because they don’t feel that they’ve been consulted on it or even warned that it might be coming in. It’s a complete minefield because you have people that are willing to take certain risk. When people go horse riding, or even if you go out on a bike, there’s an element of risk and you accept that. Having said that, we don’t live in that sort of society anymore. Unfortunately, games could get closed down by legal cases. I would have liked to have seen a trial of it before it was blanket rolled out just to see what the differences were.”
Kay believes it coming but also offered a different option, which is the tackle should be made below the height at which the ball is carried by the attacking player.
“I think it’s coming in the elite game, I think it’ll come fairly quickly. I wonder if the right decision maybe should have been below ball height.”