Story by Dylan Coetzee •

The term ‘tackle school’ has quickly become a common phrase in rugby circle after World Rugby implemented the Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme, but how does it work, and what does it mean?

Player welfare has firmly been in the spotlight over the last couple of years as the game’s governing bodies look to protect players from the long-term effects of head injuries in particular.

This has seen a rise in the number of cards given in general, which has led to, in most cases, applicable bans. However, some bans can be reduced using World Rugby’s Coaching Intervention Programme or tackle school.

Now, with the Rugby World Cup on our doorstep, one might be wondering what tackle school is and how does it work? Planet Rugby breaks it down into layman’s terms.

World Rugby Coaching Intervention Programme

If a player is banned for a dangerous tackle, they may make use of this initiative introduced by World Rugby in July 2021. It is important to note that a player may only use tackle school to reduce their ban once during their career.

The goal of the intervention is to underline the focus of player safety and to visibly improve the tackle technique of the guilty player.

Players work alongside coaches with video footage looking to identify faults in their tackle technique that could put the ball carrier in danger. Then, drills and other methods of modifying tackle techniques are identified and implemented.

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Meanwhile, the entire period a player is at tackle school is overseen by an independent coaching review expert panel.

Statistics prove the intervention is working

At the end of November last year, World Rugby released an update supported by statistics that prove the effectiveness of tackle school.

Since the programme began in July 2021, 94% of 120 players who have been through the intervention have NOT been repeat offenders.

World Rugby’s chief executive, Alan Gilpin, was delighted with how effective the programme had been and how it underlines the commitment to protecting players.

“As a sport, our mission is to reduce the frequency of head impacts in both game and training environments, and we are approaching this through education, law amendments and tough sanctions,” Gilpin said.

“Since its launch, the Coaching Intervention Programme has challenged coaches to think about tackle technique and safety, and lessons learned from these cases can be applied to every player, creating a benefit for all players in the game. The behavioural statistics and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive.

“It is important to state that we are not saying that head contact is exclusively a player technique issue, as we will continue to work tirelessly to reduce the risk via law amendments and education, but good technique certainly contributes to reduced head injury risk, and we are encouraged that the players and coaches share this view.”

World Rugby director of rugby Phil Davies echoes his colleague’s sentiments and believes the programme has made a difference in improving tackle technique.

“From a coaching perspective, the tackle is fundamental to successful outcomes and practicing good tackle technique can have welfare and performance benefits. Programmes such as the Coaching Intervention Programme have enormous education and behaviour benefits and are as important to the coach as they are the player.

“The Coaching Intervention Programme is by no means a tick box exercise. In order to benefit from a shorter suspension, the coaching intervention must be a targeted and technique-focused measure, designed to analyse tackle/contact technique and identify and implement positive modifications. We want to change the player’s behaviour and ultimately reduce the risk of injury to themselves and opponents. This intervention is reviewed and overseen by an independent expert coaching review group and can only be undertaken once per player. Of the 100 plus players who have been through the programme, eight have had further red cards. Those players can’t apply twice, and they will generally then receive longer suspensions from the judicial process as a repeat offender.

“What we have seen in the 100 plus examples to date is a huge amount of transformative work being undertaken by participants and a genuine openness to change technique because of both the welfare and performance benefits of keeping players fit and on the field.”