In an attempt to make contact safer for all players, organizations are returning to football’s roots: rugby.
Blind-sided knockouts and highlight reel hits have become commonplace in the weekly Sports Center Top Ten, but the fundamental aspect of tackling in football has come under scrutiny in recent years.
There are about 221 tackles per rugby match, and each tackle is as important as the previous one. A single missed tackle could lead to more minutes on defense, or even a try. So every tackle must be efficient, and in the process of being efficient, rugby tackling reduces head-related injuries.
“It’s not only a more effective way to tackle, it’s a safer way to tackle,” Chris Ash, defensive coordinator for the Ohio State Buckeyes, said in the Wall Street Journal Article “What the NFL Can Learn From Rugby”. The Buckeyes are not alone in their belief in rugby tackling, as the Seattle Seahawks, Super Bowl XLVIII Champions are also one of the top organizations to bring rugby tackling to football.
The Seahawks’ reputation of being the most feared defense in the NFL is due in large part to the ability to make tackles effectively and consistently. The transition from football tackling to rugby tackling is not easy though. Rugby tackling is specific, as compared to football tackling where the general motto is, “Go and knock the snot out of the person with the ball.”
“Tackling in rugby starts with tracking. It is a key component in targeting the opposition in a way that you can bring them down.”
-Rugby Coach Mills
After tracking the ball carrier, the tackler attacks the inside hip using his shoulder as the first point of contact. This forces the tackler to place his head on the hip of the ball carrier, which removes the head from the tackle, thus making contact safer for both the offensive and defensive players.
“As opposed to a football tackle, the important thing is the wrap,” Mills said. “You tighten down once you target the opponent and then twist and bring them down.” Unlike new school football, old school football has taught players to tackle straight up with their face mask in the chest of the offensive player.
On angle tackles, the defensive players were supposed to place their head in front of the ball carrier, squeeze up high, and then bring the offensive player to the ground. Both of these methods involve using the head to assist in the tackle, effectively increasing the chances of injury.
“The key difference between a football tackle and a rugby tackle is that in the past ten years the football tackle has gotten away from the wrap,” Mills said. “The rise in concussion protocol is due to people using their heads in tackles,” said Coach Brett Mills.
Senior Robert Gonzales made the transition from football to rugby for the first time last year, and noticed the difference.
“Well in football we have helmets, so I use my head a lot. In rugby, there is no helmet, so whenever my face hit, it hurt. I busted my nose three or four times.”
-Robert Gonzales, Senior
Rugby has perfected the art of the tackle, and football organizations across the country are finally taking notice.