Should we tackle?

You may have seen the recent research suggesting that tackling in rugby should be banned for young people.  The RFU have been quick to dismiss it (as one would expect them to) and I’m sure there will be a ricochet back from the University this came from (Newcastle).  It is indeed research heard around the world – I know it has been reported in the southern hemisphere and treated with a fair bit of contempt.

I think if you haven’t played rugby, you’d have no idea why this is a big deal.  To anyone who has played the game, it will be hard to swallow.  In essence, to remove tackling is to remove fifty percent of the game!  It would be the same as removing fielding from cricket!

Tackling in rugby is where you test your own physical, personal and emotional resilience.  It is where you turn to the guy beside you and say ‘No Pasaran’, and form a bond that lasts forever.  The answer is to do it, but do it with common sense (ideally against people about your own size!) and be well coached so you do it right!

I have always believed that a huge strength of rugby is that a bully cannot hide on the rugby pitch.  We had a school team here a few years ago (that cohort has since left) where the biggest, most ‘robust’ boy in the year group did not join the rugby team.  It did not surprise me that he was also the one who had to be spoken to the most about using his bulk against other school mates during the school day.  He did not have the character to test himself against someone who might be stronger.

The magic of rugby is that you tackle the person running at you – you don’t get to decide if you are a sure chance at beating them.  You put your body on the line for the 14 people around you.   Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t.

I think the error here (and most of world, Australia included) is school AGE rugby.   New Zealand gets it right and look at the impact.

School/club rugby in many countries is based on age.  In New Zealand – they play according to weight.  So, there is no room for some overfed behemoth to thrive as an unskilled battering ram against opponents who have not had the reconstituted steroid loaded chicken he has been blessed with.  And look at the skill level – players have to outthink opponents as well as outmuscle them.

A lot of our students (male and female) play this great game and I hope for their sakes this research is quietly acknowledged and filed away.  The friends I made playing rugby are my friends for life (for heaven’s sake – one of them married my sister) and that’s because we forged that friendship in trust, reliance, resilience and loyalty.  I wish the same friendships for our young people – and that comes with the full game of rugby.