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Tackling the tackle 2: Evaluation of referee and player behavioural change as measures of implementation of a law variation in community-level male amateur rugby union.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate player and referee behaviour during a lower tackle height law variation trial in community rugby union ('rugby').

DESIGN: Prospective observational cohort study.

METHODS: In a law variation trial in male amateur community rugby, coded match video surveillance data were analysed. Referee (sanctioning rate) and player (tackler body position) behaviour changes over one season (under the lowered, armpit-level maximum legal tackle height condition) were analysed in three approximately equal periods of the season. Secondarily, an independent professional referee reviewed illegal high tackle sanctioning data.

RESULTS: Overall, 108 matches with 14,780 tackles were filmed and coded. Sanctioned illegal high tackle propensity was significantly higher in the mid-season (41 sanctioned high tackles/1000 tackle events; 95 % CI: 35-47), compared with first and last periods. Upright tacklers in tackles decreased significantly in the final vs. middle period of the season (rate ratio: 0.69; 95 % CI: 0.54-0.88; p < 0.01). Of all the coder-determined high tackles also assessed as high under the new law by the independent referee, 51 % were sanctioned by the on-field referee.

CONCLUSIONS: Positive player and referee behavioural changes were observed during a lowered legal tackle height law variation in this community rugby setting. Increased mid-phase high tackle sanctioning by referees was followed by fewer tackles with upright tacklers in the subsequent (last) phase of the season. Encouraging positive behaviour changes of this nature, particularly if sustained (beyond trial study periods), may contribute to overall injury risk reduction, and hold considerable importance to inform future injury prevention strategies in rugby.

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