Rugby League


21 Apr 2023

Reduction of Head contact and head accelerations – Law trials 2023

Reduction of Head contact and head accelerations – Law trials 2023

Two law modifications will be trialled in the RFL Academy competition this summer, as part of the three-year research project across Rugby League led by Leeds Beckett University. The project is quantifying head impact and acceleration exposures in the sport with the aim of increasing understanding and reducing future risk.

The law modifications will be trialled over four rounds of the Academy competition from June 15 to July 30. The legal tackle height will be reduced to below the armpit at initial contact, with penalisation for contact on the head and neck at any point; while kick-offs will now be taken from 10 metres further forward – on the opposition’s 40-metre line, rather than the halfway line at present – to reduce the impact of ensuing collisions.

In addition, Leeds Beckett University have recently completed a study to further understand contact training requirements for Rugby League, and are undertaking an intervention with coaches and players to reduce head collisions in Women's Super League. The intervention is being delivered by the RFL’s Chief On-Field Officer Dave Rotheram and Stuart Barrow, the Head of England Pathways (Women) who is also the Head Coach of England Women. The findings of the studies are considered by the RFL's Clinical Advisory Group, and the contact load guidance will be distributed to clubs in the summer.

This summer’s Academy trials have been approved by the Clinical Advisory Group, and subsequently by the RFL Board at their last meeting in March – and an initial communication was made to Heads of Youth at clubs following that meeting, to advise them that the trials would be taking place.

Clubs were informed of the trials at this week’s meeting of the Rugby League Council, with more detailed explanation provided to Heads of Youth and Academy Head Coaches at a meeting in Saddleworth on Thursday.

The priority over the coming weeks will be communication with and explanation to match officials, players, coaches and parents.

The impact of the trials will be evaluated through the following months, allowing a recommendation to be made to the RFL Board about the possible implementation of the law modifications more widely across the sport.

Dave Rotheram, the RFL’s Chief On-Field Officer, said: “This is another significant step in what has been an extensive research project as is appropriate and necessary for such an important issue for Rugby League and other sports.

“We are aware of the considerable practical implications and challenges for players and coaches in the Academy competition of the law trials, especially regarding tackle height, which is why we have worked hard to communicate with coaches and Heads of Youth, in terms of the level of research that has led to these recommendations, and how they will be implemented.

“Players have already been introduced to the concept of the proposals at their clubs, and they now have another six weeks or so to prepare for the trials.

“By playing under these trial law changes, everyone involved in the Academy competition this summer will be making a major contribution to Rugby League’s response to this major issue – and I thank them in advance, on behalf of the sport, for that.”

Professor Ben Jones of Leeds Beckett University, and the RFL’s Strategic Lead for Performance, Science and Research, added:

“The law modification trial is one of the ongoing studies as part of the TaCKLE project*. The law modifications were developed with a range of stakeholders, and initially informed by studies looking at the mechanisms associated with concussion, and also how tackle technique influences head acceleration events. Based on initial instrumented mouthguard data**, the head acceleration events are lower for both the ball carrier and tackler when contact is made with the torso as opposed to higher on the body. The purpose of these law modifications is to assess whether they reduce concussion, risk factors for concussion, head contact and head accelerations for players. We will also evaluate how coaches, players and match officials found the law modifications.” 

Further Notes 

*The TaCKLE research project – to measure Tackle and Contact Kinematics, Load and Exposure – was launched in early 2022 by the RFL and LBU, after a successful pilot in 2021.

**Over 800 players at all levels of the sport have been fitted with instrumented mouthguards allowing the measurement of head impact and head accelerations

The research team and Head Contact Working Group proposed a number of rule modifications, which would theoretically reduce a player’s head acceleration and contact load exposure, both within a match and therefore accumulatively across a season and players career. 

The rule modifications were reviewed by a wider stakeholder group which included: 16 Super League and 20 Academy coaches, six performance staff, two medical staff, 11 match officials, 15 current players, and one retired player.

Stakeholders rated the importance (eg will the rule modification reduce the frequency of high magnitude head accelerations?) and feasibility (eg does the rule modification compromise the dynamics of Rugby League and is it easy to implement for players and referees?) The laws being trialled had the highest rating of importance (tackle height) and feasibility (kick off location).