Friday Night Freeze Out

By David Wilkinson

A team of volunteers set about clearing the pitch of snow on Friday morning for the visit of Burnage. The weather forecast, at the time, gave every prospect for rugby on Saturday, but the temperature at Priory Park on Friday night dropped to minus six, leaving the pitch rock-solid and unplayable.

The scheduled pre-match Sponsors’ & Volunteers’ lunch went ahead; it was a thank you from the Club for the support of all who attended. After the lunch General Manager, Andy Appleyard and Chairman, Stephen Branch presented four awards to the volunteers.

Tom Brierly winner of the Young Volunteer of the Year award

First up was Tom Brierly, who was awarded Young Volunteer of the Year. Tom sets a great example to young members; he lives and breathes rugby, helps behind the bar, runs-touch for the 1st team and is already on his way getting his referee qualifications. Back in January last year Tom, then only 16, went over to Buxton to help them out refereeing three games, to rave reviews from Buxton.

The Gate Crew wins the Volunteer Group of the Year award

The Volunteer Group of the year went to the Gate Crew; they are the absolute Front of House for the Club, meeting and greeting visitors with a smile, while taking their money. Alan Cope thanked the team while trying to recruit new helpers from the membership.

Under 13s Coach, Tristan Wood, won Coach of the Year award

Coach of the year went to Tristan Wood for his outstanding coaching efforts with the Under 13s squad.

Wilkey (David Wilkinson) receives his gong, before it’s too late!

The final accolade was the Lifetime Volunteer Award that went to yours truly for annoying people on the mic, writing a lot, and other odds and sods.

Will the new tackle height ruin the game?

All of the talk after the awards at Priory Park was about the RFU’s announcement to change the tackle-height in the community game. All teams below the Championship will have to tackle no higher than the waist. It’s an announcement that the rugby community have reacted with astonishment to. It seems, to most, as being a draconian step in the move to make rugby safer, and one that could completely change the nature of the game.

The RFU has made its decision after examining the data gleaned from 611 Head Injury Assessments from 2016 in the elite game, and a trial carried out at level 6 and below in France. It seems to be massively flawed in its belief that it will make the game safer in the amateur arena. To begin with, the data comes from the elite game where tackles are likely to be delivered with far more force, and when one drills into the data it suggests that the maximum reduction in HIAs might be only 8% for lower tackles. However this data is based upon when there has been a choice of tackle heights, it doesn’t consider the outcome if the tackler is forced to make a chop-tackle when faced by a ball carrier driving low at close-quarters.  A stat that it may wish to consider is that in the six years since the red-card protocol was introduced for high tackles there has been absolutely no change in the HIA incident rate; a fact that tells an entirely different story. Interestingly World Rugby considers the soak-up tackle, which is ostensibly around the shoulder area, to be far safer than a high impact tackle to the body.

The chatter in rugby club bars, from coaches, players and supporters, is constantly that: “They (World Rugby, The RFU and Referees), are ruining the game. The law changes seem to be a constant irritation, that rather than improving the game make it almost impossible to referee, the scrum and high tackle being currently the most irritating. All those involved in playing and coaching the game know that this latest change could be the last nail in the game as we know it. Coaches are concerned that there is just not enough time to coach the changes with players in the close season, and that it may also drive players out of the game. It is just not feasible to start coaching until players return from their close-season break, which then leaves around six weeks before warm-up games commence.

Tackler comes in at waist-height, Sam Broster drops height to evade tackle – impossible to referee

The RFU has made the announcement without; at the same, releasing how the change will be implemented; which has created a hue-and-cry from all sides of the game; it would seem on the face of it that the tackle height change will be virtually impossible for tacklers to implement in every situation and as such impossible for officials to referee. Many believe that it is likely to lead to more head injuries, particularly as amateur players will be forced to execute chop-tackles in certain situations that they may not have the skill sets to carry out. Probably the most naïve statement in the RFU’s press release was that ball-carriers will be encouraged to evade tacklers without effecting any late or sudden changes in body height; expect the complete opposite.

Nobody forces amateur rugby players to play the game at club-level; they go into it with eyes open knowing that it is an impact sport that has consequences. Impacts happen throughout the game, it’s what the game is about and what defines it from other sports. High shots to the head, with impact, are a rarity in the amateur game; a player more often gets a head injury through tackling elsewhere on the body, hips, knees, a boot or head-on-head clashes. Sadly the RFU has made their draconian decision through flawed data and pen-pushing analysts, rather than spending the last six years talking to the people who actually play the game. As I type, the online petition for the RFU to review their decision grows like a mutant corona virus – but sadly they, the law makers, are a law unto themselves.

Chop-tackling the likes of Matt Lamprey, at close-quarters, there will be a small queue for that one!

Head Coach Ben Wade had this to say: “I think it’s a total over reaction, the community game is on top of the situation regarding high tackles and head shots are a rarity these days. We as a club we do our bit, and you can see in the game that is being played that tackle height is dropping; the referees have been working very hard with players to help this change in attitude. In my opinion the RFU should have trialled this at a Junior level, where players are transitioning into full tackle rugby (generally U9s). We have yet to receive anything from the RFU, but it is difficult to understand how the tackle area will be refereed at a maul and when teams are defending their line. And what of players trying to transition from Academies and National One rugby into the professional game, it will be by then two different games”.

RFU Council members have since gone public, saying in general that they got it wrong, not necessarily in their final decision, but in their lack of consultation and the way in which they have communicated the change to clubs. However it now appears that at the next RFU Council meeting they will review the process, by which the decision was made, as well as the strategic analysis and the engagement and communications strategy. Another council member has promised a full and frank debate to take place before the meeting takes place.

On Saturday the boys will resume their full-bloodied rugby up at Kendal, subject to no further climatic catastrophes; kick off will be 2.15 pm.


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