Rugby: Concussion rates fall at World Cup after new high tackle rules

Sam Cane was ruled out of a match after his concusson test look longer than 10 minutes.
Sam Cane was ruled out of a match after his concusson test look longer than 10 minutes. Photo credit: Chiefs

World Rugby chairman Sir Bill Beaumont has welcomed player welfare results from the 2019 Rugby World Cup as "hugely encouraging", after a reduction in concussion numbers. 

World Rugby announced concussions were reduced by 28 percent at the World Cup, compared with the 2018 elite-competition average, while a 37 percent reduction in tackle-concussion rate was also highlighted.

Last year's World Cup was the first to use the high-tackle sanction framework, offering guidance on how to punish dangerous contact.

The high-tackle sanction framework was created to change player behaviour, encouraging them to lower their tackle height.

Yellow cards at the tournament were 74 percent higher and red cards 138 percent higher than in elite competition in 2018, and World Rugby says this was "a direct contributing factor" to reduced concussions.

All Blacks props Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi were among those yellow-carded for dangerous tackles during the World Cup, after both were sin-binned during a 71-9 win over Namibia. 

"These hugely encouraging outcomes of this study endorse our unwavering evidence-based commitment to injury prevention, particularly our continued efforts to protect players from concussive events on the rugby field wherever possible," says Beaumont.

Sir Bill Beaumont.
Sir Bill Beaumont. Photo credit: Getty

"The significant reduction in concussion incidents provides compelling evidence of what can be achieved when competition owners, match officials, disciplinary officers, players and coaches fully buy in to the High Tackle Sanction Framework.

"Failure to do so can have significant player welfare and performance consequences."

World Rugby says the tournament also saw an overall reduction in injury rates, from 90 injuries per 1000 player hours in 2015 to 83 injuries per 1000 player hours.

Injury replacements per match also reduced from 2.08 per match in 2015 to 1.13 in 2019.

"World Rugby’s role is to provide the best possible standard of care to our players, driven by an evidence-based approach," said World Rugby chief medical officer Dr Éanna Falvey.

"Rugby World Cup 2019 was the pinnacle of the men’s test game and a major platform to showcase best practice in our sport.

"The medical standards implemented at the tournament achieved strong outcomes, thanks to the buy-in from teams and medical staff.

"The High Tackle Sanction Framework was introduced this year, following compelling research that illustrates that the tackle is responsible for 76 percent of all concussions, the tackler sustains 72 percent of all concussions in the tackle and head injury is four times greater risk with high tackles.

"At Japan 2019 and all test matches since implementation in May 2019, we have been looking to protect players by changing culture and getting the tackler lower.

"These very positive outcomes suggest that teams embraced the challenge, resulting in a reduced injury risk, which is very encouraging.

"We will be presenting these findings at the second annual World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium this week, and will continue to adopt a collaborative and evidence-based approach to understanding where we can further reduce the risk of concussion in our sport."

South Africa went on to win the 2019 World Cup, beating England 32-12 in the final.