As of the 2023/2024 season, World Rugby has modified their rules in order to improve player safety at the community level. From this season forward, tackles must be made below the sternum, as opposed to below the shoulder as it was previously. Another rule has also been introduced forbidding the ball-carrier from dipping his body height, if the drop in body height causes a collision to the head of the tackler. This rule now places an equal burden of responsibility on the ball carrier for the safety of the tackling player. As seen in the Rugby World Cup so far, there has been a clear increase in the number of players receiving Yellow and Red Cards as a result of high tackles, and head-to-head contacts caused by players attempting tackles too high. The goal of this blog post is to help educate people on the new rules entering the game, and how they can avoid injury as they adapt to these new rules. 


One of the most important things in the build-up to making the first contact in a tackle, is footwork. Most players will have been coached to shorten steps as they approach the ball-carrier, before entering to make the tackle. What can sometimes be helpful is to imagine a string between the ball-carriers’ feet. As the tackler approaches to make contact with the player, they aim to “break the string” between the ball-carriers legs, with one quick step. The shortened steps in the lead up to the tackle allow the tackler to shut down the space, and react to a late change of direction, while the “break the string” step forces the tackler to drop the body height and make the first contact with the ball-carrier using the shoulder. If the ball-carrier is on the right side of the tackler on approach, the tackler should aim to break the string with the right foot, and make contact with the right shoulder.  

Drop the Hips

After approaching the tackle with the correct footwork, the tackler’s body height will still need to be adjusted to make the tackle safely for both parties. If the player enters without dropping the hips, they run the risk of making a high-tackle and injuring either or both players involved in the tackle. However, dropping the hips isn’t as simple as just bending at the hips, the aim is to lower our whole body height, by lowering the hips. By bending the knees, hips, and back together, the tackler should be able to enter the tackle with their head up, eyes on the target, and shoulders facing towards the ball carrier. By entering this body position while shortening our steps on the tackle approach, it almost guarantees the hit will be below the legal limit, and as the tackler breaks the string, it allows them to place their head in the safest possible position.

Head Position

When learning how to play rugby, one of the first things taught to children is where to place their head when making a tackle. Most children will be told to aim for “cheek to cheek” contact, by putting their head behind the ball-carriers hip. Assuming the player has had good footwork on approach, dropped their hips before contact, the head placement behind the hip means that the tackler’s head shouldn’t be subjected to any fast, or high velocity forces as the tackle is completed and the ball-carrier is brought to ground. As previously mentioned, if the ball-carrier is on the right side of the tackler on approach, the tackler should aim to break the string with the right foot, and make contact with the right shoulder. To complete the tackle safely, the tackler’s head should be placed behind the ball-carrier’s right hip.

    Secondary Tackler

    The new laws introduced now acknowledge that the second tackler has as much responsibility for player safety as the first tackler and the ball-carrier. Should the ball-carrier already be falling as a result of the primary tackler’s intervention, that will still count as a mitigating circumstance in the penalisation process. However, the second tackler will now have to make a clear effort to lower their body height, drop at the hips, and make contact below the sternum in order for the tackle to be safe. In the situation that you are entering a tackle as the secondary tackler, analyse the situation before entering contact. Are you needed to complete the tackle? Has the ball-carriers height dropped after the first contact? Can you lower your body height enough in the time you have before you commit to the tackle?  

    Tackle height framework

    Look for Offload

    With the legal height being reduced to below the sternum, one of the big advantages this gives the ball-carrier is two free hands to allow for an easier offload. From a coaching perspective, ensuring that your ball-carriers have support runners looking for an offload will make your team much harder to defend against. From a players perspective, carrying the ball in two hands into the contact will keep the opposition from committing to a tackle until they have to. If they commit early it will allow more space for your support runner to exploit if the offload goes to hand. 

    Don’t dip to meet the tackler

    If the tackler has already dropped their hips and adequately lowered their body position to make a tackle, and the ball-carrier dips to meet them causing a rise in contact height, the ball-carrier will be penalised. This essentially means that players who attempt to “bosh” the tackler, are running the risk of being penalised. This aims to increase the safety of a tackler who is already in the correct body position, and place a similar responsibility of safety onto the ball-carrier. It encourages players not to go looking for unnecessary contact, when other options may be available.

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