Terblanche column: Tackling concussion conversation

The implementation of laws related to high tackles requires greater consistency, writes former Springbok STEFAN TERBLANCHE.

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In 2012 more than 4 000 former American Football players took the National Football League (NFL) to court in what became not only a groundbreaking lawsuit, but also a heated debate highlighting the dangers of concussion in contact sports.

The rest, as they say, is history and the NFL lost the case, incurring costs amounting up to $1-billion to be paid to the injured players who suffered from concussion after their careers. Hollywood didn’t wait too long before Will Smith starred in the movie Concussion, telling the story as it is.

We always talk about the laws and regulations in rugby union and we often complain that these rules are ruining the game. Without a doubt one of the main talking points revolves around the tackle laws and how they are policed and implemented.

As South Africans we often feel aggrieved that we are copping the wrong end of the stick, and that referees and sanctioning committees and panels treat South African players much more harshly than any other nation’s players. This brings me to my next point.

With the Americans leading the way, it didn’t take rugby union players long to catch up and, as we speak, a group of former rugby players, including Rugby World Cup winners are taking World Rugby, the Rugby Football Union and Wales Rugby to court over their alleged failure to protect them from the effects of concussion.

I take serious issue, but no sides in this matter, although it is a rather concerning state of affairs for the rugby powers. I am of the impression that as an adult, you make a decision to play rugby professionally, get paid well to do so and know full well the risk attached to a contact sport, but that’s just me.

Who knows where this lawsuit will end up and if it will ever see the inside of a court, but that’s of little importance to me.

As a member of many Foul Play Review Committees, from Super Rugby to the Six Nations, Rugby Championships, U20 tournaments and the big one, the World Cup, I have seen and experienced the good and the bad of the law changes and the high-tackle framework.

I have had many an argument around braais, on social media and WhatsApp groups when players get red cards or cited, ultimately ending in a sanction of up to 10 weeks.

I have no doubt those rules, regulations and guidelines are here to stay and we have to accept that. Rugby in general can ill-afford a lawsuit of $1-billion, and with rugby unions and franchises bleeding from the devastation caused by Covid-19, I shiver at a thought of even half that number.

What we thought would only happen in a few years’ time is now a reality and the lawsuits have been opened.

Many of us are saying that the laws and the regulations are killing the game we love. I am under the impression that those laws are put in place to keep our game alive and to save it from being ruined.

Do I miss seeing a massive hit slightly high and dangerous on a big burly forward running at full pace? My answer is a definite no, but do I get upset when those rules and regulations aren’t policed and applied consistently? Damn right I do.

The rules are here to stay and in my view they will become even stricter and more intense. There is a simple cure for the so-called cancer killing our game and that’s to educate players and supporters on these guidelines as they constantly change.

Even more critical than the education is the implementing of these rules. Get that right and the game is good to go!