World Rugby to add ‘anti-school’ initiative to regulations

World Rugby’s coach intervention program, commonly known as the ‘challenge school’, has been heralded as a success and will be regulated.

During the initiative’s global trial period, which began in July 2021, 120 players applied for a one week or one game reduction in their penalties in exchange for performing additional training sessions focused on technique.

Only eight of these players have received a red card since their return to matches; this is a ‘reoffending’ rate that encourages World Rugby.

This points to clear benefits for player well-being. Studies have shown that 73 percent of head injury assessments are due to the intervention situation, and 76 percent of that is needed by the survivor.

The continued opportunity to reduce sanctions will also be welcomed by players, coaches and fans, given the small margin of error that is often in the game. The difference between a fair fight and a substantial ban can be only a few inches.

World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin said: “Our mission as a sport is to reduce the frequency of head blows in both play and training settings, and we approach this through education, law changes and tough enforcement.”

“From the start, the coaching intervention program has challenged coaches to think about fighting technique and safety, and the lessons learned from these cases are applied to each player, creating a benefit for all players in the game. Behavioral statistics and feedback were overwhelmingly positive.

“It is important to note that we are not saying that head contact is simply a player technique issue as we will continue to work tirelessly to reduce risk through legislative changes and education, but good technique certainly contributes to a reduced risk of head injury and we are encouraged to share this view with players and coaches.”

Leicester Tigers and England center Dan Kelly is one of the players using the coaching intervention program. In October 2021, his three-week ban was reduced to two after a dangerous fight against the Saracens offensive half Aled Davies. Kelly suggested that the intervention “improved my game” both “technically and generally”.

“The coaching intervention program is by no means a checkbox exercise,” added Phil Davies, World Rugby’s director of rugby. “To benefit from a shorter suspension, the coaching intervention must be a targeted and technically focused measure designed to analyze the intervention or contact technique and identify and implement positive changes.”

“We want to change the player’s behavior and ultimately reduce the risk of injury to themselves and to opponents. This intervention is reviewed and overseen by an independent expert coaching review group and can only be performed once per player.

“Of the 100+ players who went through the program, eight got more red cards. These players cannot file twice and often receive longer suspensions from the judicial process as a repeat offender later on.

“What we’ve seen in over 100 examples to date is a true openness to change technique, due to the large amount of transformative work undertaken by the participants and both the well-being and performance benefits of keeping players fit and on the court.”

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