NEW age-weight dispensation rules — as well as an expanded concussion system — will be rolled out across Australia in 2018 to ensure that rugby can be a game played by all.
In a significant step in the battle to ensure safety in rugby, all Australian junior rugby players aged between 10 and 15 will be subject to mandatory assessment about whether their size and skill suits their age group or if they need to be moved.
Hitherto, players could be moved two age groups up or one age group down from their age but there was no standard method for determining this.
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The historic new guidelines was established on the back of a two-year study in partnership with Sydney Junior Rugby Union, the Brumbies and Australian Catholic University.
The study monitored 134 players from the Canberra junior competition and took in data from 1400 players from Sydney juniors over the course of the study.
It found that weight is not the only determinant of which age group a player should play.
The announcement comes just days after Hollywood star and South Sydney Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe called on rugby league to run competitions based purely on weight to make the game safer for juniors.
An independent and experienced coach will observe the player and consider size, maturity, playing experience and fitness as an overall package, before deciding if they need moving to a different age group.
“The changes we have made with our size and age guidelines are aimed at making the game safer and more enjoyable for all participants, while staying true to the value that rugby is a game for people of all shapes and sizes,” said Rugby Australia head of services, Lachlan Clark.
“In every age group, there are exceptional cases where a junior player might be better suited to playing up or down a grade, and we now have a structured process to ensure those players are playing at a level that best suits their physical and personal development.
“This is the culmination of a review which has been two years in the making and is backed by an extensive research project, which we believe puts Australia at the forefront of world rugby in this area.”
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Parents will still be able to dispute the assessment of their child.
Also announced is the expansion of the Blue Card concussion program, which ensures that players are taken on the ground for a medical check if they are suspected of experiencing concussion.
“The Blue Card system will be in place across all rugby nationally from u-13 to National Rugby Championship (NRC) level, enhancing rugby’s commitment to protecting players from the rare occurrence of concussion,” Clark said.
“There will be ongoing structured education of match officials, medical attendants, coaches and team managers in the signs and symptoms and management of concussion.
“Our commitment to protect players from head injuries is reinforced with strict high tackle laws with the understanding that the head is sacred across all levels of the game.
“The Blue Card system reinforces that player safety is paramount in our game.”
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