Home International Rugby Laws – Applying the dangerous tackle framework

Laws – Applying the dangerous tackle framework


With two red cards in the first two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations, some fans have been asking questions about how these laws are being enforced by referees.

The fact is that the law changes and framework of May 2019 have  not changed and are just being enforced stricter by officials to prevent serious injuries to players.

The framework is a guideline for officials to help them come to a sanction for any high/dangerous tackle.

Now the problem is not the framework nor is it the actual enforcement of the law but rather the way officials have interpreted this law which frustrate fans players and coaches.

Normally we see the referee with his assistant referees and TMO discussion the framework when such tackle takes place in the game but the referee has the final say in the matter when giving a sanction.

The Framework

The Framework is available here, with some video to explain this.

i. Is the incident a high tackle or a shoulder charge?

ii. If so, was there contact with the head or neck of the ball-carrier?

iii. What was the degree of danger – high or low?

iv. Are there clear and obvious mitigating factors?

A Shoulder Charge is defined as being where:

“[The] arm of the shoulder making contact with the ball carrier is behind the tackler’s body or tucked in the sling position at contact”

A High Tackle is defined as being where:

“An illegal tackle causing head contact, where head contact is identified by clear, direct contact to [the ball-carrier’s] head/ neck OR the head visibly moves backwards from the contact point OR the ball carrier requires an HIA”

So a shoulder challenge is where no arms are being used. In World Rugby explanation video they make it clear that if the position of the tacklers arm is behind or in front of the tackled player on contact.

Shoulder Charges

So if it was a shoulder charge the first question will be if there was contact with neck or head area.

The second question is whether there was a high or low degree of danger in the tackle.

If the answer to the first question is yes then it means the degree of danger is high and sanction will be a red card. If there is no contact to neck or head area the degree is low and yellow card will be sanction.

Only if there are a really low degree of danger(which normal never happens) the sanction will be a penalty only.

So how do the officials decide on the degree of danger?

  1. The tackler draws arm back prior to contact
  2. The tackler may leave the ground
  3. Arm swings forward prior to contact
  4. The tackler attempts a active full force tackle and not a passive or pulling out of contact
  5. Tackler speed is accelerating into the tackle, speed up prior to tackle
  6. Arm or elbow makes contact with brute force to the head of tackled player with a swinging motion.


High Tackles

Again here the first question is the point of contact on the tackler’s body. Does the tackler make the high contact with shoulder, head or arm?

If contact is made with tackled players head or neck, using the tackler’s shoulder or head, the second question comes into play. What was the degree of danger. High danger is red card and low degree of danger is yellow card.

The high tackle World Rugby has defined as a “seat belt tackle hill be sanctioned with a penalty but if the degree of danger is high a red card or yellow card can be sanctioned to the tackle player.

The officials have to follow this framework but they can consider mitigation factors if any.

One must remember that these mitigation factors must be clear and obvious and that mitigation can only take sanction down to one level.

So if mitigation factors are being used by officials they can only take a red card to a yellow card or a yellow card to a penalty only.

The possible mitigating factors given are:

  1. The tackler must make a real attempt to change the height in an effort to avoid ball carriers head.
  2. The ball-carrier suddenly drops in hight
  3. Tackler is unsighted prior to contact
  4. Reactionary tackle, immediate release
  5. Contact is indirect

An aggravating factor will be I the tackler and tackled player are in open space and the tackle has a clear line of sight and time before making the tackle.

Now over the past two weekend we saw players being given red cards for entering the ruck and connecting with a players head/neck area with force.

Now Law 9.20 explains clearly the sanction for a player who enter the ruck or maul dangerously.

9.20    Dangerous play in a ruck or maul.

A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without binding onto another player in the ruck or maul.


Low-end: 2 weeks Mid-range: 6 weeks Top-end:  10+ weeks Max: 52 weeks

Now there are some fans that was asking about accidental head clashes or tackles. In this instance the tackler is still responsible for the collision as officials looks at the the tacklers body position and the force of the collision.

In both Irelands test against Wales and Scotland against Wales the tackler came in with brute force into the ruck. One must remember here that the law state that you can not charge into a ruck or maul.

In both cases the tackler charged into the ruck and connected with head/neck area.

When a tackler appears try and dominate the tackle in this situation the degree of danger will always be high and again in both the two test matches this was the case.

To conclude the framework give officials a clear guideline on how to sanction any high tackle or shoulder charge in open play as well as in a ruck and maul situation.

One must admit that the framework that was given to officials is working and it has given them something to work from to get to the best possible sanction for dangerous play.

The biggest problem for most fans will always be the consistency from officials on the implementation of this framework.

We do still find officials who gets it wrong but one must admit that they are few. Interpretation from a official may always be a talking point around the braai after the game but if you look at the framework you would be able to quickly see if the right decision was made.

Framework are clear, and it is important to protect our players

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