New Zealand receive ‘resounding’ response to sternum tackle trial

Planet Rugby
New Zealand club scrum

New Zealand club scrum

New Zealand Rugby (NZR) has said it will continue the reduced tackle height law trial in its community game until the end of 2025.

NZR community rugby general manager Steve Lancaster told the New Zealand Herald that the trial law, which forces a first tackler to tackle below the sternum, has both improved perceived safety and made for a better, faster game.

Faster games

“Our participants have told us that they want the tackle area of the game to be safer, and that’s been our focus. The resounding feedback we’ve heard from our players, coaches and referees is that they understood the reason for change, and that’s been critical to its success,” said Lancaster.

“We appreciate it’s an adjustment to make, and our community participants can be proud of the way they have adapted and played the game this season. There’s still room for improvement, but we’re seeing the majority of first tackles below the sternum, more offloads and faster games.”

Overwhelming majorities of survey respondents said they thought the new tackle techniques were safer for both ball-carrier and tackler, while offloads are said to have increased by up to 65 per cent in New Zealand‘s premier men’s club rugby.

It is hoped that the aspect of safety improvement will bring more young male players back to the game, but there is a sense of hope to be found in a sharp uptick in women and girls’ participation.

Other law trials reported that although junior club boys’ numbers had declined slightly (two per cent) over the 2023 season, there had been a 20 per cent rise in women and girls’ playing stocks, leading to an overall seven per cent rise in rugby players in New Zealand from 2022.

Teenage participation grew 11 per cent overall to 34,173 players, while community coach registrations increased four per cent and – especially pleasing – referee registrations grew by 8 per cent to 1,564.

“Covid completely changed community sport across the country, and we’ve really only just completed our first normal rugby season in four years,” Lancaster said.

“…Junior boys’ numbers are not back to where they were pre-Covid in some parts of the country. We’ve spent some time understanding the issues and, along with teenage participation, it will be a focus of ours moving forward.”

Two other law trials will continue in the community game as well, with scrums only allowed to advance 1.5 metres before the shove must stop (except for 5m scrums), while defending scrum-halves will not be allowed to advance past the tunnel, nor move further than 1m away from the scrum. The latter law trial has been credited for an improvement in overall gameplay from the set piece as well as a reduction in handling errors from the same.

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