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Monday, April 01, 2013
 
What can rugby tell us about the future of football?

A recurring question in discussions of the future of football in light of safety concerns is whether, and how, you can have a "safer" tackling sport. Thoughts generally turn towards rugby--dre did a workshop at FIU in February and this came up during that conversation. Having just watched the Tokyo Sevens rugby tournament, I wonder if the answer is in there somewhere. Without question it is a tough, brutal, physical sport and in all likelihood players are suffering some head trauma, as well as other physical injuries. But rugby seems to involve more tackling and less "big hits" or high-speed/high-impact collisions. Players (especially off the ball) do not get the same running start or head of steam, so they are not moving as fast when the hit one another.

So am I correct as to nature of the hitting and tackling in rugby compared with football? And if so, is there a way to change the rules of football and the way it is played to make the hitting more like rugby? And would it work to preserve football or would it so fundamentally alter the game?





10 Comments:

Interesting post, but I think that most big hits in the NFL occur on (downfield) passing plays -- absent from rugby. They also happen on kickoff and punt returns, while not a big rugby watcher I believe those are not part of rugby either.

Not to mention the whole gladiator-player that the NFL promotes is based on the big hitter, as well as being able to be the "hitee" and still perform. Which is the whole tightrope the league is trying to walk right now.

Anonymous Glenn -- 4/01/2013 8:33 AM  


I think one of the biggest differences between rugby and football is that rugby is a fairly dynamic game. The clock is generally running and the players are constantly moving, either laterally (across the field) or occasionally vertically (up and down the field).

Football is premised on the set play. The teams line up and bang into each other on purpose and with as much force as they can generate. So the game is inherently static and diametrically opposed.

I think the dynamism of rugby and the general lack of tackles that are diametrically opposed may keep some injuries minimalized.

I also think that because rugby players are obviously not wearing a full set of armor, they tend to take tackles in a manner that tends to stand the opponent up (thereby slowing the progress and therefore force of the contact). But the massive amount of armor that football players wear tend to minimize in the players head, the kind of damage they are doing to their own bodies, let alone what they are doing to opponents.

Blogger Matt Johnston -- 4/01/2013 9:34 AM  


I found the rules of tackling in rugby at this BBC link (http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/rules_and_equipment/4204640.stm). They are FAR different from football, and do seem less likely to result in serious injury, particularly head trauma. (I have played football, but only watched rugby, so perhaps someone else will comment with first hand experience.)

Here is an excerpt from the article:

"The laws of tackling

Tackling is the only way of legally bringing down your opponent in rugby union.

But there are certain laws on how to tackle and if these are not adhered to, penalties will follow.

When you tackle an opponent, you cannot make contact above the shoulders. This is for safety reasons.

The referee will instantly give a penalty if he sees a high tackle, and a few stronger words may follow if the challenge is deemed dangerous.

Expect a yellow card and a spell in the sin-bin or a red card and instant dismissal for more serious offences.

Other laws govern what can and cannot happen once a tackle has been made.

* * *

There are certain situations where tackles cannot be made.

If the ball carrier has been held by an opponent, but has not gone to ground, and a team-mate has bound onto them, a maul is formed.

At that point a tackle cannot be made for safety reasons."

Blogger DHMC -- 4/01/2013 10:20 AM  


There are a couple of fundamental differences between rugby and football. For one, you can only hit the person with the ball in rugby. There's no blocking, which is where a majority of contact comes from in football (though it seems most big hits are on the person with the ball - except for kicks/punts/and if Hines Ward is on the field).

Also, rugby is not as north-south as football. The lateral element of rugby reduces the amount of huge, straight-on hits. (Of course there are huge hits in rugby, just not nearly as many as in football.)

That said, I have played both and I think any football player could learn great, safe tackling technique from playing rugby. With no pads to provide protection (or perceived protection) then you quickly learn to bring someone down without hurting yourself.

Anonymous Myles Solomon -- 4/01/2013 11:02 AM  


There are a couple of fundamental differences between rugby and football. For one, you can only hit the person with the ball in rugby. There's no blocking, which is where a majority of contact comes from in football (though it seems most big hits are on the person with the ball - except for kicks/punts/and if Hines Ward is on the field).

Also, rugby is not as north-south as football. The lateral element of rugby reduces the amount of huge, straight-on hits. (Of course there are huge hits in rugby, just not nearly as many as in football.)

The constant passing (and rule against not hitting a player without the ball) also keeps players from being able to key in on one player with the ball for a big hit.

That said, I have played both and I think any football player could learn great, safe tackling technique from playing rugby. With no pads to provide protection (or perceived protection) then you quickly learn to bring someone down without hurting yourself.

Anonymous Myles Solomon -- 4/01/2013 11:14 AM  


Here are some ways that football could alter its rules to make it more like rugby and produce fewer head injuries: 1) require players to wrap up when they tackle, this would remove players launching themselves and leading with the head; 2) leather helmets, it may sounds crazy but rugby players do not lead with their heads either going into tackles or going into contact because they know the head is not protected by a giant piece of metal and padding. As helmets have gotten bigger, so have the hits in the NFL, and one way to reduce them is to reduce the feeling that the head is protected, it will force players to tackle properly by leading with the shoulder, and it may help if the shoulder pads were softened a bit too. 3) Incorporate Rugby's high tackle rule, in rugby a player is not allowed to tackle above the shoulders, eliminating contact to the head. Some head contact and head injuries are inevitable, but these changes would help reduce what seems to be an epidemic in football.

Blogger Jeremy Abrams -- 4/01/2013 11:51 AM  


A reply to what Glen wrote -- the "big hits" Glen mentioned on downfield play in football are the ones that make the highlight reels, but many of the biggest hits, and most serious injuries, occur on the offensive and defensive lines. The NFL continually changes rules on interior line blocking (they have just done so again this year) because of the extent of injuries in linemen. Granted, these are not necessarily the concussions that get the press, but there are serious injuries to legs (knees in particular) and necks -- in fact, there was a lineman paralyzed a few years ago when he was flipped and landed on his neck.

Blogger DHMC -- 4/01/2013 12:15 PM  


Rugby sevens, which is what Howard watched and based this article on, is a much different game than rugby 15s. The difference lies right in the name and nature of the sport. With rugby 7s, there's only 7 people on either side of the ball, so taking a risk to make a hard tackle can lead to the opposing team scoring a try (touchdown), where as using angles to slow the player down and then drag them down won't be as exciting, but it is a safer way to get the job done. Because there's only 7 people on your team, players always opt for the safe tackle. The small amount of players on a large field also leaves a lot of room for the offense to run to the outside or for a hole, instead of going head on into contact.

Watching 15 v. 15 rugby will show you the same kind of contact that football has. The field is much more crowded and there is a lot more help on every tackle. There are still big hits and there are still head injuries. The difference between the two is not just that rugby has a no "high tackle" rule, but that when people aren't wearing helmets, they are much less inclined to smash their heads into each other.

I think the NFL took a step in the right direction with the defenseless receiver rule last year, but the "crown rule" won't help much at all. Running backs running straight up will suffer broken ribs and other injuries. Trying a rugby style no high tackle rule, might be something to consider though.

Blogger Jacob Carvalho -- 4/01/2013 9:24 PM  


I played rugby for several years in college and then on a club side. The key advantage with respect to injuries is that the only person who gets hit in the same sense as a football player is the person with the ball. And that person knows that they will get hit and because of the off sides rules knows from which direction that hit will come. That allows the ball carrier a better chance to avoid the hit and to prepare for it before it comes.

But there are other ways that injuries can and do happen, particularly in rucks when there can be some pretty unrpedictable results. I watched a team mate suffer a broken collar bone at the bottom of one pile of players.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 4/02/2013 3:36 AM  


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Blogger takeshi007 -- 4/10/2013 9:14 PM  


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