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Tackle ban would 'do away with rugby' - Tony Ward

Updated: Friday, 04 Mar 2016 12:35 | Comments

Former Ireland star Tony Ward is against the proposed tackle ban
Former Ireland star Tony Ward is against the proposed tackle ban

Former Ireland international and schools rugby coach Tony Ward believes it would ‘do away with rugby’ if calls to ban the tackle from the game were heeded.

Ward was responding to a letter from more than 70 doctors and health experts from the UK and US to the Minister for Sport calling for a ban on tackling in school rugby games.

In an open letter, also sent to authorities in the UK, the doctors and health experts warn of the high risk of serious injury among under-18s playing rugby and urge schools to move to touch and non-contact versions of the game.

It describes rugby as a "high-impact collision sport" and states "children are being left exposed to serious and catastrophic risk of injury.

However Ward, who has coached schools rugby for several years, believes that banning the tackle would be a step too far.

Speaking to RTÉ 2FM’s Game On, Ward said: “If you ban the tackle you may as well ban rugby, and where does it end after that? If you’re going to take physical contact out of all sports then the rest will follow. Gaelic games, hurling, football, Aussie rules, wherever you want to go.

“It seems crazy and I also notice that one of the things mentioned apart from the tackle is the scrum. You’re only allowed push one-and-a-half metres from the scrum so we don’t have injuries at school levels.

“What I would say is that in terms of tackling, kids are taught to learn from the get go that’s it’s cheek-to-cheek. The cheek of your face to the cheek of the bum of the ball carrier so you can use his backside as a cushion.”

Ward did admit that there were issues in the game that could be addressed but insisted that they were problems that came from the professional game, rather than underage.

“What I am a little concerned about, and perhaps some good can come out of this now, is that the game that we see now at schools levels understandably apes what it sees and copies from the highest level.

“It’s a very physical game now. You now have teams not just trying to execute the tackle but trying to free up the ball in the process, tackling much higher than they did in the past.

“I would like to see the tackle reduced to below waist height, particularly in JCC – that’s under-16 level. Experiment with that and the maybe up to senior.”

“But to ban the tackle? Because of road crashes do we do away with driving? Where do you draw the line?

“It just seems so silly to me and it would do away with rugby,” he added.

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