Tag Archives: concussion

Confusion reigns over rugby union’s high tackle laws

Concussions have increasingly become an issue for concern in elite rugby union. In recent years, the number of these potentially serious head injuries have soared by 59% in the Premiership.

Players are bigger, fitter, faster and stronger, the hits are harder, so it’s no surprise that a re-think of the rules around tackling has happened.

“It’s a brilliant directive, but its not being refereed properly” – Jonathan Davies

Several high-profile incidents have fuelled calls for more to done to protect the health and safety of those on the pitch.

Northampton Saints were heavily criticised after letting their Wales and Lions international winger George North play on after seemingly lost consciousness (see image at top) following a collision with Leicester’s Adam Thompstone.

North was cleared to return to the game, but BT Sport pundit Ugo Monye said at the time: “I don’t think George North should [still] be on the pitch; it’s a simple as that.”

Long-term effects

The England Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project, published in collaboration with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, showed that although the rate of injuries remained stable during the 2013-14 season, their severity continues to rise in the professional game.

The Rugby Football Union has recruited former England internationals to pioneer a study into the long-term effects of playing rugby.

World Rugby have also issued a revision to its laws which came into effect on the January 3rd.

It has increased the severity of the punishment for reckless tackles, with a minimum sanction of yellow card and a red where deemed appropriate.

It has also encouraged an increase in any accompanying bans, but the changes have confused coaches, players and spectators alike.

Fallen foul

Ex-Wales star Jonathan Davies, now a BBC pundit, said: “Inexperienced referees have gone berserk in imposing yellow cards.

“It’s a brilliant directive, but its not being refereed properly. They’ve gone to the letter of the law, and it’s gone crazy.”

“Wayne Barnes admitted mistakes would be made but insisted that his fellow refs would learn from them”

Davies argued that referees need to use common sense about what can be considered a ‘high shot’ and is a ‘cheap’ one.

A player who has fallen foul of this recently is England international Brad Barritt.

The Saracens centre was banned for three weeks after a high tackle on international team-mate Geoff Parling during the match against Exeter.

Originally, Sarries prop Richard Barrington received a red card for his part in the tackle.

However, an RFU disciplinary panel found that ref Ian Tempest had punished the wrong individual. You can see the tackle in question here and make up your own mind.

‘No massive change’

Leading international referee Wayne Barnes told BBC 5 Live recently that the laws themselves have not changed, only how officials are being told to interpret them.

Barnes insisted: “[There’s been] no massive chance, we’ve carried on doing what we’ve done for a while now.”

He admitted mistakes would be made but insisted that his fellow refs would learn from them.

But what do people involved in grass-roots rugby union think of the situation?

I visited my local team, Esher RFC, to watch them play against Fylde, and talked to spectators about the high-tackle controversy.

Overall, there was general support for the ‘new’ laws and a recognition that something needed to be done.

‘Protection needed’

James Sharman, a former Surrey county youth player, said a more rigorous approach to high tackling is the best way forward.

“It’s good to see that these laws are being put forward to help protect us”

“Having looked at the [injury] statistics, it was evident that it was only going to end up this way,” he said.

“These players are putting their bodies on the line week in, week out. They need modernised ways to protect them.”

Joel Keefe, who plays at amateur level, said the changes have been made at the right time.

“Being someone that plays rugby, it’s good to see that these laws are being put forward to help protect us,” he said.

“Now all that needs to happen is to make sure that the referees judge their decisions diligently and correctly. The worst thing that could happen is if the rules were made a mockery.”


Clearly, this fresh interpretation of rules around high tackles is going to take some time to bed in.

With the 2017 Six Nations just around the corner, and the British & Irish Lions touring New Zealand in the summer, all eyes will now turn to the international game to see how the laws are enforced at the very highest level.

There’s bound to more controversy along the way.

But ultimately, it is good to see rugby union’s governing bodies demonstrating that they are committed to protecting the players who week in, week out put their bodies on the line for club and country.

Concussion clouds gather over football

The C word has been growing in significance in sport for a few years now.

It’s always had traction in boxing, which is largely about blows to the head, but it’s now a major issue for the NFL and rugby union. Should football be taking it more seriously too, or is it a panic about nothing?

The first thing to understand is that it is repeated sub-concussive head impacts that can change the structure of the brain slowly over time and lead to problems in later life, as well as increasing the risk of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).

A study by the American Public Service Broadcasting programme Frontline found that of 91 ex-NFL players surveyed, 87 showed signs of CTE, prompting more players to  challenging the NFL over its handling of the issue.

The worrying aspect surrounding this issue is that CTE can only really be confirmed in a deceased person. It does pose the question, as players get physically stronger and faster, what the situation would be like in 20 years?


Extensive media coverage of the issue has helped forced the NFL to wake up and offer help and compensation to former players, but is concussion also an issue for football?

When we think of the beautiful game, we’re more worried about other injuries people get. Hamstrings, groin tears, sprained ligaments, etc, but there’s a legitimate reason to take more interest in the effects of sub-concussive blows.

With the pace at which the elite game is played of football speeding up as footballers get fitter and stronger, the potential for collisions is growing.

One way the modern development of football can lead to more is the idea of a ‘sweeper keeper’.

Up to the mid-2000s, goalkeepers seldom strayed beyond their six-yard box. These days, more keepers patrol their entire area, play passes out to team-mates and rush to make last-ditch tackles when their defence is exposed.

Furthermore, the concept of appearing macho or hard on the pitch is another parallel to the American game where fans and players alike treat some nasty-looking injuries as if they were minor. Newcastle’s tough-tackling midfielder Chiek Tiote suffering a head injury recently but describing it as scratch and was in the team for their next game.

Bad advice

At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, millions of viewers around the world say Uruguay left-back Alvaro Pereira knocked unconscious and lie on the floor not moving.

When he came to, he was allowed to complete the game, and when it was over there was little or no mention of the incident or the fact that a player knocked out for five minutes had been allowed to return to the pitch?

“Football could learn a lot from how other sports have changed their protocols to better look after their players”
– consultant neuropathologist
Dr Willie Stewart

This is a product of poor advice, a lack of firm protocols, and lack of knowledge by fans, the media and players on the subject of injuries. It has gotten to the stage where people are criticising players, such as Liverpool’s Daniel Sturridge for NOT playing through the pain.

West Brom goal-scoring legend Jeff Astle died aged 59 of a degenerative brain disease caused, said the coroner in 2002, by repeated minor traumas associated with heading old-fashioned football. His family have long campaigned for more research on the issue, an opinion shared by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart.

He stated that he was “depressed, disappointed and dismayed” by the incidents surrounding footballers and head injuries and also was critical of football’s approach compared to other sports.

“I don’t see much progress happening in football. It could learn a lot from how other sports have changed their protocols to better look after their players.”

My fear is how football seems to be following the same fate as the NFL. Public interest to resolve the issue still isn’t there, and we seem to be in a denial stage where we refuse to believe football is dangerous in this way.

The astronomical sums of money at stake mean governing bodies and corporations will of course will look to serve their interests. For the game’s sake, and the sake of those who play it, I hope every aspect of player safety is explored with the utmost care.