Concussion in Rugby and the TACKLE Project

Evidence strongly indicates that there are serious long-term effects on players who suffer repeated concussions in rugby and other contact sports. To better understand more about these head impact injuries and learn how to protect players, the Rugby Football League (RFL) and the Betfred Super League have joined forces in a TACKLE project.

The project is led by Professor Ben Jones and its purpose is to learn more about concussions in rugby and improve player welfare. TACKLE stands for “tackle and contact kinematics, load and exposure.” Kinematics describes the motion of objects including velocity and acceleration.

The TACKLE Project

To study the consequences of head impacts and concussions in rugby, all 12 Super League clubs have replaced traditional gumshields with mouthguards that contain accelerators and gyroscopes. The head accelerators capture whiplash, which is not a head impact injury but requires the head to move quickly.

The data is then analyzed and used in a way that enhances player welfare and supports players across the game. Looking out for player welfare is the primary concern.

How the Data is Used: Player Welfare

The data is used in several ways. One is to determine when it is safe for a player who has suffered a concussion in rugby to return to play. It is also used to strengthen disciplinary procedures.

The RFL’s director of operations says, “As the science evolves and knowledge becomes better, the reality is the sport has to adapt.” The first thing the league has done to adapt is to make a graduated return to play policy for players who suffered a first concussion. Now, a player must wait 11 days after a concussion to return to play. Even then, the player must pass every stage the first time.

This is a significant step forward in looking after player welfare, which the director says, “has got to be our primary concern whenever we look at trying to regulate the sport.”

How the Data is Used: Player Discipline and Return to Play Guidelines

To reduce concussions in rugby for the 2022 season, sanctioning guidelines for late tackles have been implemented. Any deliberate act of foul play, which includes punching, kicking, or headbutting, which results in contact with the head, will be considered a Grade D offence. This carries a three to five-match suspension.

Changes have also been made to the return-to-play protocol after a player has suffered a concussion. The recovery period has been extended to a minimum of 11 days. This is a significant step forward in looking after player welfare.

The data also helps the league develop guidelines around the physical and psychological loads players deal with. Player load is an umbrella term that covers “contact training, psychological load, traveling, and sleep.” Professor Jones notes that “The load will be evaluated for full-time professional, part-time professional, age grade and women players.”

The goal is to obtain enough evidence-based information so that the right decisions can be made to enhance player welfare “and continue to support players across the game.”

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