The rule changes, introduced by World Rugby in August, were designed to make the game “simpler to play and referee, as well as further promoting player welfare” – but, in the last instance at least, appear to have had the opposite effect.
There have been a series of high-profile injuries in the first six rounds of games in the Premiership and several coaches have raised alarm bells with the game’s administrators.
The “game trends summary data” research, revealed by the Daily Telegraph, shows there has been an 11.4 per cent rise in tackles per match (up from 150 to 167) and 8.8 per cent increase on “involvements” in games (up from 850 to 925) from the same stage last season.
Nigel Melville, the RFU’s director of professional rugby, believes the research shows players are now more heavily involved in defensive lines because the rule changes mean they are spending less time competing for the ball at the breakdown and scrum.
“The contact area is virtually not being challenged and there are fewer people in it and more players becoming defenders. If you reduce the contest for the ball at the ruck, you increase the number of defenders which puts the defenders on the front foot and puts more pressure on the attackers,” Melville said.
“So the attacking side is now getting more of the ball but also facing a greater number of defenders and we are therefore seeing more tackles. The increase in tackles is significant as it involves ‘double tackles’ and with greater line speed. And we found last year that it was not the tackled player that predominantly was injured but the tackler.”
That is a sentiment reflected by Wasps’ director of rugby, Dai Young, who at one point had a third of his squad unavailable through injury.
“It’s hard to…