Rugby Australia has announced historic changes to the community game in a bid to eliminate head contact from the sport.
The governing body has introduced a new rule reducing tackle height, with any contact above the bottom of the sternum now considered a high tackle.
The changes apply to all levels of the sport below Super Rugby, meaning all Central West rugby competitions including Blowes Cup first grade will need to adapt.
The shift follows multiple trials overseas, with early evidence in Europe, New Zealand and South Africa suggesting a lower tackle height reduces the likelihood of head-to-head contact and concussions.
Head injuries have been a major issue in contact sports across the world, with multiple organisations grappling with how to reduce the risk of concussion.
Rugby union has been a leader in the sphere, with rugby league initially slow to react before introducing rule changes in recent years.
RA is introducing a two-year trial at the community level, with officials to collate the data following this period.
While the changes have initially been introduced at the community level, it is expected they will flow through to Super Rugby and the international arena in the future.
Other sports will have a close eye on the outcome of the trial, with the expectation they will follow suit if the outcomes are positive.
In announcing the change, RA chief executive Phil Waugh said protecting player safety is a priority for his organisation.
"Research from around the world has clearly identified safety as the number one issue preventing fans and potential players from taking up the game," Waugh said.
"Obviously it is impossible to remove all risk from the game, however we firmly believe that promoting safer tackle techniques, and reducing the risk of head contact and concussion will lead to an even safer game. I am confident our players and coaches at all levels of the game will continue to work on safe and effective tackle technique."
A years-long process to eliminate head contact
The official reduction in the tackle height is the latest step in a World Rugby crackdown on contact with the head.
The governing body has introduced tougher rules at all levels of the game as part of a zero-tolerance policy on high tackles.
The changes came into sharp focus during the World Cup final when New Zealand skipper Sam Cane received a red card for a high tackle. South African captain Siya Kolisi received a yellow card for a high shot later in the game and escaped a more severe punishment after match officials determined there were mitigating factors involved.
World Rugby is currently facing a lawsuit from hundreds of former players who have accused the organisation of failing to protect them adequately from the risk of head injuries.
The risk of litigation has played a major role in the governing body's efforts to minimise head contact in recent years.
The most recent changes have received a mixed response, with people at all levels of the game eager to see a safer sport but differing opinions on how to achieve this.
Adapting to the changes
Club rugby coaches across the country will have four months to wrap their heads around the new rules and implement changes at training to prepare their players for the start of the season.
RA confirmed there will be a renewed emphasis on enforcing existing rules banning attacking players from dipping the body moments before contact. There will also be flexibility regarding pick and drives, where the ball carrier starts at a low height, however defenders will be penalised if they make contact with the head or knock.
There will also be challenges determining where the sternum sits, with referees required to make decisions on the fly.
Focus on junior participation
Officials hope the changes will trigger an increase in the number of junior rugby union players amid a highly competitive sporting environment.
Parents are increasingly concerned about safety and have made it a priority factor when choosing what sports their kids will play.
With grassroots participation in rugby declining in recent years, it's hoped this will attract children back to the game.
Data in France indicates the trial led to an increase in pre-COVID participation as people welcomed a safer game.
ACT Junior Rugby Union president Martin Sullivan is optimistic similar results will be seen in Canberra.
"It will be attractive to some parents that the tackle has been lowered to make it more safe," Sullivan said. "The game will probably speed up with less time spent on the breakdown.
"Everything's evolving, particularly sport and the way we manage sport. The whole focus is around safety, that's our number one priority. Not only ensuring the laws are followed but developing the game with safety aspects in mind."