Joe Marler of Harlequins is tackled by Josh Bayliss (R) and D'Arcy Rae
Harlequins and England prop Joe Marler (middle) was among those to express concern with the RFU’s decision to reduce the tackle height in English community rugby

The Rugby Football Union has apologised for the handling of its decision to implement new laws on tackle height in the English community game.

It was announced by the RFU last week that players will only be able to tackle from the waist down from July.

But the decision has been met with criticism from a number of clubs, players and coaches.

The RFU has released a statement saying sorry for the “anger and concern” it had created.

Implementation of the new rules would will apply to all levels outside the professional game.

English rugby’s governing body said when they announced the changes that it would improve player safety, particularly around the issue of head injury and concussion, which has been a point of concern at all levels of rugby.

Those critical of the proposed changes deemed it would be unworkable and expressed fear over a mass player departure from the sport.

In a statement released on Friday, in response to the backlash, the RFU added: “In our desire to act quickly to reduce head impacts and concussions in the community game, which represents 99% of the rugby playing population in England, we have upset many of you who are the champions, volunteers, and ambassadors of our game.

“We fully acknowledge we got the engagement wrong, and we are truly sorry.”

The RFU says it will now begin a process of consultation with players, coaches and match officials in order to work out the best way to limit the risk of head injuries in the sport.

“In making our decision we were aware that France have lowered the tackle height, New Zealand will be doing so and World Rugby supports this approach,” the RFU added.

“We, like the French, used the term “waist and below”; this has caused misunderstanding and confusion.

“We would now like the game to help us define how we describe a lower tackle height to reflect what the research is telling us in a way that is understood by all.

“Consequently, the risk of head injuries should be reduced if tackling below that optimum height. We will now begin a series of forums and workshops with players, coaches, match officials and volunteers, to explain and develop the details of the domestic law variation.”

‘A sorry episode’ – analysis

BBC Rugby Union Correspondent Chris Jones:

The announcement last week was met with bewilderment and anger by large parts of the community game, with two of the many gripes being how radically different the proposed new tackle height would be, as well as the lack of consultation with the thousands of players, coaches and referees who make up the game in England below the elite level.

The RFU have now backtracked on both fronts, apologising for the lack of engagement with the grassroots sector and promising to now work with the community game to find an optimum tackle height.

Rugby union is dealing with something of a safety crisis, especially with regards concussion, with 250 former professional players taking legal action against the governing bodies.

And while amateur players may feel the issues are more prevalent at the elite end of the game, any move to reduce head collisions needs to be taken seriously.

But this has been a sorry episode which has driven a wedge between the union and the member clubs it is meant to serve.

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