The decisions during the Ireland v Samoa game, one leading to a red card for Irish centre Bundee Aki, and a yellow card for Samoa’s Seilala Lam, has led to much debate about the new tackle laws. I think that Nic Berry, the Australian referee, got both decisions spot on, as he followed the law and protocol that has been laid out by World Rugby. The decision for the red card was correct, but I had hoped that any subsequent punishment was minimal, as I could see mitigation for the tackle. The decision to give him three weeks was more than I would have hoped, but I suppose that it sets a standard by World Rugby that even with mitigation, they are putting the responsibility on the tackler. When you look at the incident at full speed, Aki did not do enough to prevent the red card, but at speed in the nature of the game, it was very hard for Aki to change his position.
As for the laws, I completely agree with the change that has come into force. Prior to the change, I felt that tackling was losing its way and it was no longer as much as a skill as it was when I was young. I still remember being taught to focus on the hips and target that area at the highest and them shoulder the knee to bring the player down. The art of doing this is becoming lost, as the players are being encouraged to target the ball. Also, it is often quoted about a two-person tackle, one targeting the ball, the other the legs. This has slowed the game down, and players with bulk and strength dominating rather than the more skilful participants. If as has been mooted that the tackle height is lowered, a more open game may emerge.
In the last twenty years, there has been much tweaking of the laws (not around the tackle, but the tackle situation) which has seen much more open games, especially in Super Rugby where they had regular scores of 50 plus points, but in subsequent seasons, the defence coaches worked out a way round the new laws.
Looking at a long-term view, and not just the safety element, I think the game will improve. I feel that there will be two facets that will benefit (though the defence coaches, no doubt will find a way round it). This will be even more true, if they lower the height of the tackle to hips, rather than below the shoulders.
As has happened in most games of the Rugby World Cup, the game has become more open (except when the teams box kick), with the teams retaining possession, and attacking the space that is available to them. This will allow the off load to become more prevalent and the teams that are more creative will prosper. The teams that are good at sevens, will become more efficient at the fifteen-man game. If they do lower the tackle height more, this will have an even bigger impact on the attacking game, as if the players are unable to off load, the tackler will not be able to slow the ball down as easily as it would be difficult to trap the ball on the ground. This will allow both the attack and defence to compete for the ball and take the game back to the days of a proper ruck. This will have a positive impact on the game of Rugby Union, and make it more pleasing on the eye, with more line-breaks happening. If nothing, it will bring back the art of tackling so that skill is as important as brawn and strength.