New laws to make rugby safer at school and club level were approved at a general council meeting of the South African Rugby Union in 2023, relating to the lowering of the maximum legal height at which a tackle may be made while also outlawing potentially dangerous ball-carrying actions and techniques.

The FNB Varsity Cup was the first prominent competition in South Africa to use these laws and according to detailed averaged match data, the number of penalties for high tackles decreased from 14.5 per round to only 7.5 towards the end of the league phase of the competition.

Furthermore, ball carriers were more aware of dipping their heads lower than their hips with penalties in this area declining from three in the opening round to zero during the past two rounds.

“As our Springbok head coach Rassie Erasmus said, ‘tackling lower is coachable’ and we’d like to thank and congratulate all coaches and players who have actively worked hard on correct, safe, and effective tackle technique,” said Rian Oberholzer, CEO of SA Rugby.

“In the same breath, I would also like to thank all the match officials for enforcing the changes. Projects such as these don’t come without teething problems and although we are aware of issues in some provinces, these are by far in the minority.

“All involved in the FNB Varsity Cup have shown what can be achieved with a positive approach. Apart from fewer penalties for high tackles, and without having properly interrogated all the data yet, preliminary observations are that there appears to be fewer concussions in this year’s tournament, which is exactly what we were hoping to achieve.”

Oberholzer further reiterated SA Rugby’s commitment to ensuring a safer game at amateur level.

“We didn’t take the decision to implement these law variations lightly and months of very hard work went into the project,” he said.

“The community rugby season is in full swing, and we would yet again like to urge referees to apply these new laws as per the tackle-height framework, while coaches and players must make the effort to familiarise themselves with these new laws and coach and play accordingly.

“This is work in progress, and we are learning as the season progresses. If all the involved parties come together and do what they can to make it a success, we will see even more positive results in the coming months, as these new laws gain momentum.

“We would like to see referees continuing to penalise tacklers that are in upright body positions. Ball carriers leading into contact with their bodies horizontal and heads lower than hips make it impossible for tacklers to tackle low and is penalisable. Finally, zero tolerance must be applied to tacklers diving at the limbs of ball carriers with leading shoulders and no clear wrapping of the arms. All these must be penalised with the applicable card depending on the level of danger.

“We do not pretend at all that the referees are getting it spot on, but there has been a marked improvement, and we are very happy to see that. All these changes make the game safer, and I urge that players and coaches take these new law changes seriously and do the hard graft to make this work. It is important for the continued safety of our community game that everyone gives this their best efforts.”

For more information on these laws, go to MyBokSmart and do the Tackle Height Change Education Module and download the following explanatory document.

For six coaching drills used by Junior Springbok head coach Bafana Nhleko and his coaching team to get his players low, square, and at the correct tackle-height, check out the clips below.