RFU law change an accident waiting to happen, says Ireland head coach

Andy Farrell - RFU law change an accident waiting to happen, says Ireland head coach Andy Farrell - PA/John Walton
Andy Farrell - RFU law change an accident waiting to happen, says Ireland head coach Andy Farrell - PA/John Walton

Ireland head coach Andy Farrell believes the Rugby Football Union's decision to lower the tackle height across the amateur game will leave players "even more vulnerable" to "accidents waiting to happen".

The former England international believes grassroots players will be "sitting ducks" without the correct coaching after the RFU last Thursday announced they will lower the legal tackle height to the waist, while Ireland captain Johnny Sexton echoed Farrell's belief and said he would not want to see it rolled out across their clubs.

The RFU's announcement, which will drastically change all levels of rugby from National One, the English third tier, to the bottom of the amateur game, has been met with uproar, with current England internationals including Joe Marler and Lewis Ludlow joining amateur players and coaches in expressing their concern.

Farrell, who has previously worked as a defence coach before leading Ireland to number one in the world, said: “I think it’s super important that what has to come with [the new laws] is the correct coaching, the correct technique.

“If you are ever just saying to a kid that ‘you need to tackle lower’, then you become even more vulnerable in my opinion. If you’re just sitting there with your arms in front, trying to wrap, with your head down etc you’re a sitting duck. [It’s an accident] waiting to happen.

“The coaching and technique of how it’s applied to tackling below the waist is absolutely crucial, otherwise we’re going to have a serious problem.”

Sexton, speaking at the Six Nations launch in London on Monday, said he could understand amateur players' frustrations, adding he would not want to see the same law introduced in Ireland.

“Look, I don't agree with it,” said the 37-year-old fly-half who has suffered numerous concussions in his career. “There’s no point sitting on the fence really, is there? I just think you have tall people who play the game. It should be their decision to how they tackle.

“Of course we need to get the head shots out of the game, but the tackles we really need to take out are the reckless, out-of-control, sprinting-out-of-the-line, tucking arms, all of those types of ones.

“Hitting someone [at chest level] should be an option. It’s not like you can’t get concussed by chopping someone’s knees. I've seen a hell of a lot of concussions from people getting their head on the wrong side, a knee to the temple or a hip even to the side of the head. So, I strongly disagree.”

Owen Farrell: 'Play hard and safe'

However, Owen Farrell, the England captain and son of the Ireland head coach, gave his backing to the RFU’s move by claiming the national side “want to be at the forefront” of making the game safer.

The RFU’s announcement on Thursday that the tackle height would be lowered to waist level from the English third tier through to the bottom of the amateur game from July this year sparked outrage from sections in the community game as well as current professionals. But Farrell believes it is the right move for the governing body.

“In terms of where the game’s going and trying to make it safer, the RFU are trying to make sure it's going in the right direction and we want to be at the forefront of that,” Farrell said at the Six Nations launch. “We want to play as hard and safe as we possibly can and I want to be part of that.”

Farrell is currently serving a suspension for a dangerous tackle against Gloucester earlier this month, and will return in time to face Scotland at Twickenham next week after undergoing World Rugby’s Coaching Intervention Programme [CIP], known as ‘tackle school’, to reduce his ban by one week.

Addressing how the course had gone and the benefits, Farrell said: “I’ve been on [the course]. What it does do, you look at what you can do better from the situations that put you in it in the first place. I’ve had time to step back and learn from that.”

Steve Borthwick, the new England head coach, also gave his backing to the CIP, noting that England defence coach Kevin Sinfield’s instructions were now part of the modules.

“That intervention course run by World Rugby, over 100 players have been through it now. In terms of globally addressing keeping the physical intensity and making it a safe sport for generations to come, it’s great that we are trying to do that,” Borthwick said.

Asked about the prospect of players leaving the community game given the law change, Borthwick attempted to be positive. "There are elements of the community game that have challenges. There are growth areas in this game. This post-Covid period we are seeing numbers in the junior game increasing," Borthwick said.

"I was at the minis [on Sunday] morning, at minus four or whatever the temperature was, shivering away, I was seeing hundreds of little kids running around.”

What has been your experience of tackling in rugby? Tell us in the comments section below