Rugby: New guidelines launched to help reduce head and neck injuries

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FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup - World Rugby and the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee hold news conference ahead of knockout matches

(Reuters) - Referees will be given more help to deal with head and neck contact at all levels of the game after World Rugby launched new guidelines on Thursday in a bid to reduce the risk of injuries.

World Rugby said the Head Contact Process (HCP) was the next step in the High Tackle Sanction Framework in their efforts to improve player behaviour and reduce concussions.

The new process offers scope to impose sanctions for illegal head and neck contact including dangerous clean-outs, head-on-head collisions, head contact caused by ball carriers leading with an elbow or forearm, high tackles and shoulder charges.

If referees suspect foul play, they can consider if contact to the head was direct or indirect and with high or low force to determine the appropriate punishment -- a penalty, yellow card or red card.

"The welfare of our players is, and has always been, our priority and I'm passionate about ensuring our sport is the best it can be for everyone," World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont said in a statement

"While there will inevitably be scrutiny as players, coaches and match officials get used to the process, we're implementing this progressive and protective measure because it's the right thing to do for players."

The HCP is already in place for the Six Nations and elite competitions and World Rugby said it would now come into effect across all levels of the sport with immediate effect.

The HCP was developed with input from coaches, referees, medical experts and current and former players.

International Rugby Players' head of player welfare Conrad Smith said it was a positive step.

"It's a complex process as we're dealing with a contact sport and the laws will apply to many different scenarios. One tackle or clean-out is rarely the same as another," he said.

"We will continue to monitor the outcomes to make sure it's working for players and for the game in general."

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris)