This is now a high tackle in Shute Shield … and coaches believe it will improve rugby


“This is a reasonable standard comp, and it’s considered a decent level globally, the Shute Shield, so it’s going to be a really good litmus test,” Norths coach Zak Beer said.

World Rugby’s tackle height guideline document.

World Rugby’s tackle height guideline document.Credit: World Rugby

It’s easy to imagine Shute Shield coaches being unhappy about the rushed rollout of the trial, and the chaos that will inevitably unfold in the early rounds. Old habits die hard and trials have featured a blizzard of penalties as players and refs get used to the new normal.

But in heartening news for World Rugby (who need coaches to drive change), Shute Shield mentors are not only supportive of the tackle-height change, they are also encouraged by the improvements to the game they’ve seen in trial matches.

“To be honest, some of the trial footy has been really good,” West Harbour coach Cam Treloar said.

“You don’t see a huge amount of change in terms of the contest. We were all scared it would change the game completely, but it definitely hasn’t. It’s made the footy faster and more fun and more exciting.”

Like most clubs this masthead spoke to at the Shute Shield launch on Wednesday, Easts coach Ben Batger said his team had been training during summer to now tackle between the knees and the hips.

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“Essentially, we are trying to take the ambiguity out of it,” Batger said. “We’re just focused on that low chop tackle. It’s really the second tackler. That’s the problem that we’re finding. There’s going to be problems at the start and what I’ve just said to the boys is just get on with it. It’s one of those ones where I think you’ve just got to suck it up and just sort of cop your medicine on the weekend.

“But the stats have shown it. It isn’t that detrimental to the game. There’s a lot of penalties initially, but once players get used to it, it goes back to a normal level. Me personally, if it’s decreasing head knocks and it’s speeding up the game, it’s a good thing.”

There have been teething problems in the pre-season, with “friendly fire” concussions already the result of two players tackling at belly height.

Clubs have brought in referees to training, held information sessions and invented new technique drills to adjust. Match officials have also been studying trial footage, trying to recalibrate.

Randwick defeated Northern Suburbs to win the 2023 Shute Shield.

Randwick defeated Northern Suburbs to win the 2023 Shute Shield.Credit: Karen Watson/Sydney Rugby Union

“Referees have their bosses sitting and their coaches sitting in the stands, so there’s going to be 50- 50s and I think they’ll err on the side of caution and penalise, just so it sets a precedent,” veteran Souths coach Joe Barakat said.

“Deal with it, keep dealing with it until teams adjust, and I think rightly so. Let’s reduce the head injuries in this game. Let’s get more kids playing this game and more mothers allowing their kids to play this game.”

Good coaches view opportunity in all things, so will the first team to adapt get an advantage?

“Absolutely,” Barakat said. “You will give teams easy access out of their own half by being overly aggressive and silly in your accuracy. Teams will definitely benefit and win games from penalties from high tackles and for a period of time until everybody reacts and responds.”

Using the lowered tackle height, data from senior men’s competitions in New Zealand last year showed offloads had increased by 65 per cent from 2022, and that excites Treloar. A former professional second-rower, the man known as “Tree” sees the skilful big man making a return.

“If you’ve got people who have got a low tackle focus and you’ve got a big hard ball carrier who can get their arms free, it brings them back into the game,” he said. “Whereas the way the tackle rule was, you didn’t necessarily get an advantage of having a big guy like that.”

The Shute Shield trial will provide compelling evidence, but with a rapidly changing eye for safe tackle heights, most of the competition’s coaches think it is inevitable lower thresholds will be rolled out at professional levels.

“It is actually interesting already, watching all of our Shute Shield trial footage and then going back to watch the Super Rugby matches now. You do notice the tackle height – and the game as well,” Beer said.

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Barakat, who has coached for 30 years in Australia, Europe and Japan, said: “They [professional teams] are still toying with the space between the ball and between the chin.

“At times I have been sitting there thinking, ‘oh f—, that should be a penalty’.”

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