"Anticipating a Flurry of Red Cards: Premiership Rugby Coaches Prepare for 'Mission Impossible'"
Although everyone you talk to in rugby understands that head contact is a serious issue, there is resentment towards the way the game is officiated.
The eighth red card of the Rugby World Cup will be given out next, tying the record for most in a single tournament
Half of all World Cup dismissals have occurred in the last four years, as that record was set four years ago. With the Premiership starting this weekend at home, it's evident that this pattern is growing, and nobody believes it will cease.
Northampton Saints defense coach Lee Radford said, "Pre-season has been fantastic but I'm old enough and wise enough to know as soon as round one starts, they're always big on one rule in particular."Most people anticipate that officials will pay close attention to tackle height, and the rugby community is especially worried about Tom Curry's red card against Argentina. Curry's name is mentioned within the first five minutes of practically every discussion on the subject with a coach.
"Some mitigation is necessary," Radford continues.
"In that tackle, he has 0.1 of a second to adjust his body height. It is an impossible mission. He hasn't hit him in the head; in fact, he's dipped a little, but the child misses three World Cup games as a result. That doesn't make sense.
A trial including tacklers hitting "below the base of sternum" and ball carriers not lowering their height much before making contact is currently taking place in grassroots rugby.
Although it hasn't been used in a professional setting yet, it has its own problems. For example, back-rower Sam Graham injured two tacklers with his hips on his first carry for the Saints in their last preseason game, which led Radford to believe that a concussion could just as easily occur from a bump on the knee or hip.
"And there's less space for heads to collide if there's less of a target to go at," the speaker continues.
It is understandable that there is worry that a rush of red cards would dominate the first few weeks of the season. Actually, Radford is content with it.
He quotes numerous of his colleagues from other clubs when he adds, "What teams are actually doing is practising for 13 or 14 men on the field, because the way it's being officiated, you've almost got to accept that it's going to come."
Like many elite defensive coordinators, Radford was a player for the Hull FC, Bradford Bulls, and England before becoming a coach at Castleford and Hull. It implies that he is accustomed to the regulations surrounding head contact becoming tighter.
The RFL took a severe beating on it a year ago. According to Radford, "you were going to spend 10 minutes [in the sin bin] for literally touching your head."
"As I can hit the ball and ricochet off of it to travel in an upward trajectory, common sense eventually kicked in and that eased off a little bit." I didn't go there to bash someone's skull in. There is not a trace of malice about that. I was going to perform a perfect tackle, but things got in the way.
"I simply believe that's the point at which common sense must prevail. We must strike a happy medium.
There are many people who share Radford's pessimism about the 2023–24 season and rising dissatisfaction over every event being re-refereed numerous times. Radford is by no means the only one trying to learn from league.
However, there are hopeful signs and the occasional optimist. Former England and Saracens defense coach Paul Gustard, who is currently at Stade Francais, thinks adaptation is feasible and that although union may experience some suffering, there is hope for the future.
Gustard tells me, "If you go back ten years in rugby league, you'll see a different sport than what you see now."
"I think you'll see a whole different sport if you go back 20 years." They've changed.
"Every activity, in my opinion, needs improvement. Every sport is looking for a means to increase safety—both for the participants and, as I mentioned earlier, for the future. We must accept it since it is the correct thing to do. It is justifiable to safeguard our athletes."Some things on the tackle height are challenging, but that's only because they're unfamiliar to most individuals. People have to adapt because it has been judged more harshly and is new to them; change and adaption always create discomfort.
"As coaches at the highest level of the game, it is our responsibility to ensure that we set the standard for what it looks like among the players."
Nobody is certain about what that is. Several clips from community rugby, where the tackle height and the more contentious ball-carrier height experiment are underway, present a sobering picture of the sport in which a significant number of once-lawful and unharmful collisions are now prohibited.
Everyone you talk to in rugby understands how serious head contact is.
"The sport will benefit more from less discussion about yellow and red cards for head-highs than anything else. For me, it's best if it's discussed as little as possible, says Radford.
Some people lack such tact. Rob Baxter, the head coach of Exeter Chiefs, told the Telegraph this week that the head-contact procedure was ruining the game. He informed me a few weeks ago that the players should have more control over the refereeing of the game.
They might shortly. Almost 300 former athletes are suing the governing body of the sport for failing to take appropriate precautions to avoid concussions.
Gustard continues, "As coaches, what you want to do is take away the obvious foul play and malicious intent because, first and foremost, we have a responsibility to take care of our players and, second, to inspire the next generation of people to take up our sport and keep it developing.
Therefore, we have a responsibility to take care of people who may become involved in the future as well as those who are presently involved as politicians, coaches, players, and guardians of the game.
That's the seriousness of this. Rugby's future depends on it.