Saturday, 4 April 2015

Whatever happened to: Tackling?

Recent statistics show that the number of concussions suffered by Premiership players increased by 59  per cent last season.

Which brings me to the fundamental question here: Whatever happened to tackling?

In recent weeks I have watched my 12 year old son embark on what I hope will be a long and enjoyable rugby playing career at whatever level he should happen to achieve. And I must say that watching Under 12s play rugby is quite uplifting. Yes, it's chaotic and unstructured and often barely resembles rugby, but watching the boys tackling is quite an education.

Much as we were taught as boys, their first instinct is to tackle low, head to one side,  hitting cheek to cheek and sliding down to wrap up the legs. Very old fashioned, I know, but effective nevertheless and designed to bring the opposition player down rather than to knock him into the middle of next week.

All very different, it seems, from modern rugby at the elite level where behemoth smashing into behemoth has become the norm. Tackling in the modern game is about the impact, hitting front on at chest height to either dislodge the ball, prevent the offload, knock the player backwards or, preferably, all three. It requires size, strength and timing, and has led to an increasing requirement for players to bulk up. It has also led to increased injury through impact, the most high profile of which is concussion.

Call me old fashioned, and many people do, but I can't help feeling that the game would benefit from a return to traditional tackling techniques. I'm not sure that outlawing the head-on, chest-high tackle, is an option (although I'd like to see the lawmakers at least consider it) but the biggest changes will come when the laws are amended to speed the game up, allowing fewer stoppages and forcing players to become aerobically fitter and substantially leaner.

So, award free kicks instead of penalties for all but the most blatant of scrum offences, don't allow the selection of a scrum as a penalty or free-kick option, put a time limit on the completion of set pieces - anything to move the game away from the gargantuan gym monkeys currently dominating the game.

Coaching proper tackling technique also wouldn't go amiss.

The alternative, from a health and safety perspective, is going down the road of American Football style body armour - and I doubt anyone wants that.

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