Rugby league tightens concussion rules but has no plans to lower tackle height

Rugby league has further tightened its concussion rules for the 2023 season, but the sport will not change its stance on tackle height despite significant and controversial changes to rugby union.

The Rugby Football Union will ban tackles above the waist from next season in community play, a move which has met with significant backlash. But the 13-man code has no immediate plans to adopt a similar policy before the start of the domestic season at professional level later this month.

The Rugby Football League has a dedicated Primary Contacts Task Force which has proposed some minor adjustments, which could be tested at academy level already this season. But there are no proposals for widespread changes to tackle height rules like those seen in the union.

The sport’s governing body will undertake research throughout 2023 to understand the ramifications of any potential major changes to the laws. In league, any tackle around or above the neck is considered illegal.

However, the sport has tightened its policy on concussions amid focus on how to further prevent lasting damage from head injuries. This includes an increase in the minimum waiting period after a player suffers a concussion to 12 days, up from 11.

This increase ensures that any player with a concussion will miss their team’s next game and prevents them from any form of contact, whether during games or training, for a longer period of time.

“We have looked at the World Rugby models and it fits that and provides a consistent and cautious approach in this space,” said RFL medical officer Laura Fairbank. “It relies on an extra day of exercise recovery and is shown to help facilitate a more complete recovery from concussion.”

There is also no possibility for a player to return sooner than 12 days under the RFL’s Graduated Return to Play Policy (GRTP). Fairbank added: “There is no fast track protocol so the baseline will be 12 days provided there have been no complications throughout this GRTP period: 12 days is the minimum.”

The RFL is also adopting a policy introduced at last year’s Rugby League World Cup which allows a club to add an extra player if a team loses three to concussions. The hope is that this will encourage more players to accurately report their symptoms and remove the belief that they would leave their teammates stretched if they were taken out of a game.

“We know players may not report symptoms if they feel they are letting teammates down, so if there is another man on the bench they can report those concussions and step down,” added Fairbank. “And that reduces the load on players who are still on the bench.”

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