The HCP is an evolution of the High Tackle Sanction Framework, which supported rugby’s ambition of reducing the risk of head injury through stronger and more consistent on and off field sanctioning of high-risk tackle actions, in turn encouraging a positive change in player behaviour.
Within the evolved HCP, the scope for sanction consideration has been broadened to include all illegal head and neck contact, including dangerous clean-outs, head-on-head collisions and head contact which arises from ball carriers leading with an elbow or forearm, in addition to high tackles and shoulder charges.
While already in operation in the Guinness Six Nations and across elite competitions around the world, the HCP will now come into effect immediately at all levels of the game in the form of a Law Application Guideline. It will be supported by a sport-wide education process for players, coaches and match officials, also furthering concussion awareness.
With the game united in its commitment to protecting players, the HCP is the result of a comprehensive, collaborative and scheduled review of the High Tackle Sanction Framework actioned at the Player Welfare Symposium in Paris in March 2020. It was undertaken by a multi-disciplinary review group featuring players, coaches, referees, medics and disciplinary representatives*.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said: “The welfare of our players is – and has always been – our priority and I am passionate about ensuring our sport is the best it can be for everyone.
“The Head Contact Process reflects that collective commitment and builds on the solid foundations of the High Tackle Sanction Framework in its ambition to reduce the risk of injury by changing player behaviour.
“While there will inevitably be scrutiny as players, coaches and match officials get used to the process, we are implementing this progressive and protective measure because it is the right thing to do for players, whose representatives have actively contributed to the process.”
World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance Joe Schmidt added: “Despite the disruption of the global pandemic, the review process, which started last March, has been highly-collaborative with excellent contributions across the multi-disciplinary group.
"The Head Contact Process will be regularly reviewed with the ambition to ensure it continues to reflect and support the current playing landscape.”
International Rugby Players (IRP) were at the heart of the review and decision-making process and the body today welcomed the announcement.
IRP Head of Player Welfare Conrad Smith said: “It’s essential to have a player voice at the table when developing the laws of the game that are aimed at protecting our players.
“It’s a complex process, as we’re dealing with a contact sport and the laws will apply to many different scenarios; one tackle or clean-out is rarely the same as another. This whole process is a positive step, but we will continue to monitor the outcomes to make sure it’s working for players and for the game in general.”
* The High Tackle Sanction Framework Review Group: Bernard Laporte (Chair), Conrad Smith and David Quinlan (IRP), Richie Gray, Dave Rennie and Gregor Townsend (coaches), Wayne Barnes and Jaco Peyper (referees), Christopher Quinlan QC and David Barnes (judicial and citing), Dr Martin Raftery and Professor Ross Tucker (medical and research), Alan Gilpin, Joe Schmidt, Mark Harrington, Dr Éanna Falvey, Joël Jutge, Paddy O’Brien, Yvonne Nolan, Steve Hinds, Rhys Jones and Dominic Rumbles (World Rugby).