World Rugby announces 'zero-tolerance approach' to reckless and accidental head contact

World Rugby has announced strict new rules aimed at deterring high tackles, as part of a "zero-tolerance approach to reckless and accidental head contact".

From January 3, 2017, redefined illegal high tackle categories and increased sanctions will be applied at all levels of the game, with minimum on-field punishments introduced for reckless or accidental contact with the head.

Stating its intention to ensure the head is a "no-go area" for tacklers, rugby's global governing body will also introduce an awareness and education programme as part of a package of measures brought in following an extensive research programme.

Contact with the head has been a controversial issue in rugby for some time, with many calling for greater protection to be afforded to players, although World Rugby's statement on Wednesday said "injuries in the game are not on the rise".

The organisation's chairman, Bill Beaumont, said: "World Rugby continues to be proactive in aligning with the latest evidence-based recommendations in this priority player welfare area to ensure players and coaches at all levels of the game are appropriately educated, managed and protected when it comes to head impacts and injury within the environment of a contact sport.

"We believe that we are playing a leading role in terms of the development and implementation of best-practice interventions and this important study further reflects our commitment to an evidence-based approach to player welfare. We believe that the invaluable data from this study will inform the law review process and lead to changes in playing or training practices."

A player deemed to have made a reckless tackle will now face a minimum sanction of a yellow card, while accidental contact will be punished with at least a penalty.

World Rugby's research – conducted across 1,516 elite-level matches between 2012 and 2015 – found that 76 per cent of incidents resulting in a head injury assessment (HIA) occurred in the tackle, with the tackler injured two and a half times more frequently than the ball-carrier.

One of the aims of the awareness and education programme will be "promoting best-possible technique to protect the head [when tackling]".

Wednesday's statement added: "World Rugby is also investigating the practicality of a closed trial of a lowered tackle height at community age-grade level in 2017."