Loose Pass: Tackle heights, colourful language and the unrest in Wales
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with tackle heights, colourful language and the unrest in Wales…
Hitting heights – whichever it is
No sooner had the dust settled on Loose Pass’ keyboard last week than the news broke that the new tackle height regulations are imminent in the professional game as well as at amateur level. World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin told the Daily Telegraph that the pros might not have to go down as far as waist level, but would have to ensure they tackled below the shoulders (isn’t that where all tackles should be anyway?).
Meanwhile, the amateur game in England is in disarray – more than before – with the RFU board and its CEO Bill Sweeney desperately seeking to avoid a vote of no confidence from a significant number of clubs dissatisfied at the manner in which the new rules were communicated and the glaring lack of solid evidence as the basis for the decision.
Rugby has survived a number of breaking points since it went professional and has rarely enjoyed long spells of clear and agenda-free leadership, but the state of the game and its administrators is as poor as it has ever been right now.
The threat to the game of the lawsuits brought both by ex-pros and ex-amateur players whose health has suffered as a result of repeated impacts is existential; as Loose Pass has pointed out before, the NFL had enough financial clout to be able to buy its way out of a similar class action. Rugby almost certainly does not have this, so some form of action is imperative.
Nor does it have the leadership to do so properly. Alone on the evening this is written, Loose Pass has perused several reports pertaining to the new tackle heights, and has found no fewer than four definitions of where the new tackle height should, or will, be: ‘below the shoulders’ (in the elite game), ‘sternum’ (a trial in New Zealand next year), ‘waist’ (the RFU’s new directive) and ‘navel’ (the height of tackle of a lot of the RFU’s cited evidence).
Loose Pass does not think that changing the tackle height will make any significant difference, for the reasons discussed in last week’s column. But what has emerged this week has shown to us all just how rudderless and/or panicked the game is. Different trials in different places, different rules at different levels of the game, knee-jerk intentions of votes of no confidence – raised, it ought to be said, at knee-jerk announcements of new law amendments.
Dissent and dissatisfaction everywhere, with the game now split neatly in two between those who believe the game needs to change its tackle techniques and those who believe that a change in tackle technique will matter not a jot in a sport currently so dominated by collisions.
There is also another split, this one between those who embrace the raw brutality and those who now understand that raw brutality is starting to cause unnecessary damage.
And all are up in arms, opinions polarising, votes of no confidence being counted, wildcat trial laws being announced, each fracture in the game leading to another, every position entrenching.
It is the process change must often go through to be thorough. But as a clear, balanced and scientific solution to the brain injury problem seems to become less and less likely, there’s a nagging feeling that the existential threat to rugby as we have known it is from within the game as well as from the pending class action lawsuit.
The dangers of dispatches from the inner sanctum
Loose Pass was amused to read two different takes on the forthcoming Six Nations documentary currently being processed by Netflix.
Italy head coach Kieran Crowley was generally in favour, saying: “It’s going to be great for Italian rugby. I think Test match rugby has become boring in a lot of respects… I think it is a great initiative to have Netflix on board. We’ve got no problem with it. We’ve just got to keep the lid on some of our boys and make sure they don’t try to be movie stars.”
Wales head coach Warren Gatland was less enthused, saying: “I can tell you now that in a rugby environment, when you are talking about creating emotion, the language used isn’t always appropriate, especially when you’re talking about nations playing each other.
“Sometimes you say something that is a little bit out of kilter when you’re trying to get the best out of players. Some of the things that get said in the changing room might not be stuff that you actually always believe, but it’s part of getting the best out of your performance. And then afterwards you’re all friends and mates again.”
Fair points of view from both parties, and not really conflicting ones either. But from an outsider’s point of view, Loose Pass can’t wait to hear what a Gatland and co. team talk is going to sound like!
🗣️ “It is with a huge amount of regret that I have decided to hand in my resignation.”
🏴 Steve Phillips has resigned as the Welsh Rugby Union CEO amid allegations of a “toxic culture” at the organisation.https://t.co/TeCGkLqSpQ
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) January 29, 2023
How many fires?
All was not well in Wales even when the defeat to Georgia all but sealed the fate of Wayne Pivac, and the recall of Gatland was quite clearly an emergency call to the fire-extinguishing service.
Yet even Mr. Gatland must be wondering what he has got himself into this time, as the walls of the WRU crash down around him. Players on the brink of leaving because there’s no funding agreement in place, the CEO resigning in the wake of a disturbing TV report on the bad culture, an ever-increasing number of stories of clubs finding themselves unable to field a team for a weekend’s fixture…
An opening Six Nations weekend fixture against the best team – on form – in the world is an enormous risk/reward opportunity. Welcome back, Six Nations!
READ MORE: Six Nations: Our players to watch in the 2023 Championship