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New Zealand Rugby to introduce safety rule changes in 2023

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has announced three game innovations that will be trialled for the 2023 community rugby season, designed to improve player safety, flow of the game and keep the ball in play more.

The changes are supported by the 26 Provincial Unions and include a significant reduction in tackle height to below the sternum across all community rugby, including senior premier club and school First XV grades.

2023 community rugby game innovations

  1. Reduced tackle height to below the sternum targeting the belly area for all community rugby grades

The first tackler must tackle below the sternum and target the belly area. The second tackler can legally tackle below the shoulders in accordance with current rugby law.

  1. Defensive halfback offside at scrum for all community rugby grades

The halfback of the team not in possession must remain 1 metre from the scrum and may not advance past the tunnel until the scrum has ended.

  1. Maximum 1.5 metre scrum push for all community rugby, excluding senior premier club rugby grades

The maximum push of any scrum is limited to 1.5 metres, unless the scrum is within 5 metres of the goal line. Please note: Small Blacks rugby at U12 and U13s is already limited to a maximum 0.5 metre scrum push and Teenage rugby is also limited to a maximum 1.5 metre scrum push.

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NZR General Manager Community Rugby Steve Lancaster said the tackle height change reflected rugby’s on-going commitment to improving player safety.

“We strongly believe that rugby offers so many benefits for our community participants that far outweigh the risk of injury. Our focus is on continuing to find ways to reduce that risk and make the game as safe as possible, while also preserving the social and individual benefits of the game.

New Zealand Rugby and our rugby community continue to be world-leading in our approach to player safety and we can be really proud of that. This is a significant and positive change for the game.

The new initiatives were trialled in selected grades last year and Lancaster said feedback from players, coaches and referees confirmed the focus on reducing tackle height was the right approach for the community game.

“Our participants have told us that they want to see improvements made to the tackle and breakdown areas, so that’s been our focus. The resounding feedback we’ve received from this season’s trials is that the game is more enjoyable to play and safer when the tackle height is reduced to below the sternum, or what some people will know as the belly.”

Feedback from community grades trialling the reduced tackle height in the 2022 season found that 78% of participants believed it improved the tackler’s safety, 73% felt it made the game faster and 72% thought there were more opportunities for offloads.

The trial will see the first tackler required to target the belly area below the sternum, with the second tackler still able to legally tackle below the shoulders in accordance with current rugby law.

After a successful trial across non-premier senior and teenage rugby in 2022, restrictions around the defending halfback at scrums will now be extended to include all grades of community rugby, including senior premier club and First XV school rugby.

To improve attacking opportunities from scrums, halfbacks of the team not in possession will be required to remain one metre from the scrum and may not advance past the tunnel until the scrum has ended.

Senior club rugby grades (except for premier grades) are also set to continue trialling a maximum scrum push of 1.5 metres next season, with Lancaster adding that the innovation required more time to establish if the change had improved player safety outcomes.

“Reducing the risk of injuries at scrums has long been a focus for the game. We know from this year’s trial that the ball spent less time in the scrum, which brings positives around ball-in-play time, but we need more time to understand from a player safety perspective if we’ve got this quite right, said Lancaster.

NZR will be seek feedback from participants on the breakdown area throughout the 2023 community rugby season, with game innovations set to be introduced in 2024.

Community rugby game innovations come into effect for the 2023 season.

Find out more about the 2023 Game Innovations

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