'Nipple rule' being met with skepticism

Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

It’s yet to be seen in practice, but already a new World Rugby law clamping down on high tackles is being met with skepticism by Super Rugby coaches and players.

World Rugby announced this week it would be introducing a law to the World U20s trophy later this year, lowering the mark for a high tackle from the shoulders to the nipple line.

The global body said the move was about forcing players to go in for lower tackles, limiting the risk of injury.

Asked about the law after his side’s loss to the Highlanders, Reds coach Brad Thorn said it could set a worrying precedent.

The Reds have been on the end of some controversial decisions this season when it comes to high tackles, with skipper Scott Higginbotham red carded and suspended for a dangerous tackle in round one.

“Soon it'll be the belly button... where's it going to go, where's it going to end?,” Thorn said.

“For me, I'm just pleased I'm retired because you could just cut loose.

“Like I said another time, if you look at the UFC and MMA or whatever, it just keeps growing because you see two people go to war, physically

“There is so much respect between them at the end.

“Often you see them hug with blood dripping down - it's two guys going at it

“In rugby it's getting pretty strict around a lot of physicality.”

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper was similarly doubtful about the practicalities of the law.

“Immediately, what comes to mind as a forward carrier, you drop your body height to carry into a highly congested zone,” he said.

“That would make a lot of tackles high because you just can't get any lower.

“They're leading with their shoulders and head.

“That'll be interesting to see...how that plays out and anything for player safety is paramount.”

Thorn only had to look to the man sitting next to him at the press conference to find an example of where the rule might be problematic.

“When you're like Rodda - 6'7”, 6'8”, 120kg, trying to play aggressive, coming in hard, it's not always easy,” he said.

“Sometimes you're a little bit off - I still reckon the crowds enjoy some contact, some physicality

“I've always thought if someone is deliberately picking a guy up and spear tackling or someone deliberately takes someone head off then yeah, definitely, that's need to be sorted out”

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said it would be a fine balance between safety and ensuring the rules are clear for everyone.

“I'm certainly supportive of anything that helps safety. I think it's important as a code that we promote laws that can certainly assist in that area.

“It's like any new law, it's experimental, it's going to be in the administering and the implementation.

“Exactly what does that look like? Until we find that out and even now we're still getting some confusion around what's high, what's not and so forth.

“It's a bit like the yellow card rule on knock downs, we're getting there. It's taken halfway through the comp to get there, so we'll see.”

The news polarised fans on social media on Saturday, with former Wallaby Drew MItchell critical of the change and hooker James Hanson looking at the funny side of the ‘nipple rule’.

High tackle warnings will also be trialled in the World Rugby U20s Championship starting this week, with two warnings resulting in an automatic one-match suspension.