New high tackle laws from 3 January 2017

World Rugby has announced a number of changes to the Laws of the Game to help eliminate the high tackle and reduce the risk of serious injuries.

  • Law changes globally from 3 January
  • Changes effectively lower the acceptable height of a rugby tackle
  • Approach informed by largest-ever study identifying most common situations leading to head injuries
  • World Rugby data shows 76% of head injuries are caused in the tackle
  • Players, coaches and match officials urged to be proactive in changing culture


The 3rd January 2017 sees a major shift in the laws of the game as World Rugby brings in a zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact.

In a bid to reduce injuries in the sport, World Rugby has redefined illegal high tackle categories and increased sanctions to deter high tackles via a revised set of law application guidelines. In effect, the changes aim to ensure that the head is a no-go area.

The changes introducing minimum on-field sanctions for reckless and accidental contact with the head, effectively lowering the acceptable height of the tackle.

The new approach, which differs from the previously announced Law Trials in 2017, was approved by the World Rugby Council after extensive expert, independent and union evaluation, and combines with new set of disciplinary sanctions and a re-focus of match officials on dangerous play. The WR data involving over 1500 elite matches confirmed that 76 per cent of all head injuries occur in the tackle, that the incidence of injury for the tackler is more than two and a half times greater than the ball-carrier and that tackle height is a contributing factor.

World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: “World Rugby continues to be proactive in aligning with the latest evidence-based recommendations in this priority player welfare area to ensure players and coaches at all levels of the game are appropriately educated, managed and protected when it comes to head impacts and injury within the environment of a contact sport.”

Ireland prop Tadhg Furlong, representing the International Rugby Players’ Association (IRPA) said, “When it comes to protecting the head and neck of players, everyone is rightly very cautious now. The culture around concussion has completely changed and it’s no longer acceptable for players to continue in a game if they’re even suspected of having a concussion. When it comes to dealing effectively with concussion in sport, rugby is at the forefront. The IRPA supports any measure that protects our welfare and we are in favour of this initiative, which we believe will help further to reduce head and neck injuries at all levels of the game. Rugby is a physical sport and there will always be a level of injury risk associated with it but the sport is doing as much as it can to make it as safe as possible.”


The new laws

From 3 January 2017, two new categories of dangerous tackles within Law 10 will carry penalty offences to deter and eradicate high tackles:

Reckless tackle

A player is deemed to have made reckless contact during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game if in making contact, the player knew or should have known that there was a risk of making contact with the head of an opponent, but did so anyway. This sanction applies even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. This type of contact also applies to grabbing and rolling or twisting around the head/neck area even if the contact starts below the line of the shoulders.

Minimum sanction: Yellow card
Maximum sanction: Red card

Accidental tackle

When making contact with another player during a tackle or attempted tackle or during other phases of the game, if a player makes accidental contact with an opponent’s head, either directly or where the contact starts below the line of the shoulders, the player may still be sanctioned. This includes situations where the ball-carrier slips into the tackle.

Minimum sanction: Penalty


For examples of the new recommended sanctions visit World Rugby Laws page and click on Law Application Guidelines

Let us know what you think of the new laws? Will they affect you? Are you already refereeing to these standards?



  1. This revised law will allow smaller players back into the game considering that the ball carrier will be allowed to slip down in a tackle.
    Also what is there to stop an attacking ball carrier (as many players do) from dropping his head as he barges into a opponent when trying to break the defending teams line?

    • Your wrong Henry. The way I read the article it says which would include the exception your referring to. (For Accidental contacts)The onus is being placed squarely on the tackler. Get used to it everyone-smile.

  2. As a boy I was always coached to “tackle low”. this instruction was even given to bigger guys. Make it a habit, then you won’t incur unnecessary penalties!

  3. Firstly I would love to see Rugby, NOT ROUGHBY
    Brute Force and Ignorance, and Referees not abiding by the Laws, eg the ball carrier is allowed to shoulder Charge, or Head charge, but the Tackler must yse his Arms. Wake up
    Also watch how the Laws change in the last 15 to 20 minutes to ensure a win for a side, as I predicted for the World Cup in Australia , South Africa wouls lose to England because of the referee, and go back and watch previous matches, and that England would win as they had the Best Pro Fowlers
    Like many of my playing Mates we hardly ever watch this Roughby

Comments are closed.