Rugby will be played lower in the future
Steve Borthwick has warned it may take time for the number of red cards handed out for high tackles to take, but thinks ‘the game will be played lower’ going forward with the help of skillful training.
Borthwick, the Leicester Tigers head coach, also suggested the disciplinary crackdown indicated the sport’s ‘progressive stance’ on the risk of brain damage.
The Tigers had players sent off in both matches of their Round of 16 against Clermont. Guy Porter was dismissed during the second half of their win at Parc des Sports Marcel Michelin following a collision with Fritz Lee. In the second leg six days later, on a Champions Cup weekend with five red cards and 15 yellows, Ollie Chessum was sent off the pitch for a high tackle on Samuel Ezeala.
Almost three years after World Rugby introduced a high tackling framework for referees, red cards for high tackles and shoulder charges remain commonplace. Conversely, a similar focus on spear tackles and clumsy mid-air collisions in the past seemed to quickly and significantly reduce those incidents. Borthwick explained that the sheer number of “different settings” means eradicating high tackles won’t have an easy solution.
“You can recognize what happened in the spear tackle example,” Borthwick said. “People don’t lift anymore. And even when it starts to happen, [tacklers] recognize what is happening and stop it. You see other players stepping in and stopping him as well.
“Unfortunately with some collisions they happen so quickly, whether it’s an accidental collision or a skid tackle or the [carrier] between and the distance closes faster than expected, there are also pitch shifts that occur. There are all kinds of different settings.
“What we try to do is make sure we train the players to want to tackle low. It is certainly something that we emphasize. Unfortunately, we have had a few incidents over the past two weeks. I don’t think that’s a common trait among us. I know that’s not a common trait with us. We will continue to find ways to coach to lower our tackle height.
Although Porter disputed the reckless play charge, he received a three-week suspension which will be reduced by one week if he completes a World Rugby coaching intervention course. Borthwick would not elaborate on the matter except to say Porter had “no intention of colliding” with Lee and predicts such accidents will remain inherent in rugby union.
“I think we would all agree that not wanting primary contacts and the process of not wanting primary contacts is right,” Borthwick added. “Over a period of time, I think the game will be played lower and the height of the tackle will be lower. This is going to take time to change and I think there will be unforeseen incidents, which are not intentional, where things unfortunately happen.