In a further effort to eliminate dangerous or reckless contact with players’ heads, World Rugby has issued a reminder to elite referees ahead of the November internationals instructing them to be especially vigilant in this area.
Referees have been told to be strict when it comes to tackles, charges, strikes or kicks that make contact above the shoulder line and to favour firm sanctions for offenders, up to and including red cards for severe examples.
World Rugby Match Officials Selection Committee Chairman Anthony Buchanan said: “World Rugby’s number-one priority is player welfare and the laws of the game clearly state that the necks and heads of players are sacrosanct. When it comes to foul play, the game is cleaner now than ever before but referees must constantly be alert to head-high hits. By taking this strong approach, we are saying to players that tackling an opponent above the shoulder line will not go unpunished.
“In addition, while striking or kicking an opponent is never acceptable, it is a more serious offence when it involves contact with the head or neck. Even ball-carriers must be careful that they fend off tacklers legally and do not strike opponents with forearms or elbows.
“While this specific directive is going out to match officials at the elite international grade, we are reminding all unions and referee societies at every level of rugby to take note and strictly enforce current law in this important area.”
All national coaches involved in the November internationals have already been informed of this re-focus.
Match officials have also been reminded to watch out for players standing ahead of the hindmost foot at rucks. Players must not obstruct opponents from moving forward.
Strict officiating is one aspect of World Rugby’s commitment to protecting the heads of players, who are now receiving unprecedented levels of care in this vital area. The success of the head injury assessment (HIA) process at the elite level has been well documented with post-match assessments confirming that no concussed player was returned to play following an HIA during Rugby World Cup 2015 and the HIA has been successfully rolled out to all World Rugby tournaments.
The advancement of technology and the heightened awareness of team medics, match officials and match-day doctors has played a critical identification role in this regard.
At community level, the education initiatives of World Rugby and its member unions around the world have been hugely successful in making players, coaches, parents and referees aware of the dangers of head injuries, what symptoms to look out for and always to employ a cautious approach. In addition, important research has been carried out and is continuing in relation to several aspects of concussion.