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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Aaron Bower

Rugby league tightens concussion rules but has no plans to lower tackle height

St Helens’ Curtis Sironen tackles Blake Austin of Leeds Rhinos during the 2022 Super League Grand Final match. In league, any tackle around or above the neck is deemed illegal.
St Helens’ Curtis Sironen tackles Blake Austin of Leeds during the 2022 Super League Grand Final. In league, any tackle around or above the neck is deemed illegal. Photograph: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Rugby league has further tightened its concussion rules for the 2023 season, but the sport will not amend its stance on tackle height despite significant and controversial changes adopted by rugby union.

The Rugby Football Union will ban tackling above waist height from next season in the community game, a decision that has met a significant backlash. But the 13-player code has no immediate plans to adopt a similar policy before the domestic season beginning at professional level later this month.

The Rugby Football League has a dedicated head contact working group that has proposed some minor tweaks, which could be trialled at academy level as early as this season. But there are no proposals for widespread changes to the tackle height rules like those seen in union.

The sport’s governing body will enact research throughout 2023 to understand the ramifications of any potential major changes to the laws. In league any tackle around or above the neck is deemed illegal.

However, the sport has tightened its concussion policy as the focus on preventing long-lasting damage from head injuries continues. That includes an increase in the minimum stand-down period after a player sustains a concussion to 12 days, up from 11.

That increase ensures that any player with a concussion will miss their team’s next match, and prevents them from any form of contact, whether during games or training, for a longer period.

“We have reviewed the World Rugby models and it sits in line with that and offers a consistent and cautious approach within this space,” the RFL’s head of medical, Laura Fairbank, said. “It builds in an extra day of exercise recovery and it is indicated that can help facilitate a more thorough recovery from concussion.”

There is also no scope for any player to return faster than 12 days under the RFL’s Graded Return to Play policy. Fairbank added: “There is no accelerated protocol, so the basic will be 12 days providing there has been no complications throughout that GRTP period: 12 days is the minimum.”

The RFL is also adopting a policy introduced at last year’s World Cup that enables a club to add an extra player if a team loses three to concussions. The hope is that it will encourage more players to report their symptoms accurately and remove the belief they would be leaving their teammates stretched if they were removed from a game.

“We know players may not report symptoms if they feel they’re letting teammates down, so if there’s another man on the bench, they can report those concussions and come off,” Fairbank added. “And it reduces the load on the players that are still on the bench.”

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