Leeds Rhinos head of youth John Bastian admitted while he understands the intention to make rugby league safer, the opening night of the trial into minimising head injuries suggested there is a better way of cutting down the risk.
On a groundbreaking night at Odsal, Leeds and Bradford’s academy sides tested the new rules recommended by the Rugby Football League, which entailed reducing the legal height for tackling to below the armpit. It resulted in a game with a mammoth 57 penalties in total, 49 of which were for high tackles.
It is the start of a six-week trial at academy level over four rounds of fixtures and while the expectation from many within the game is that players will adjust and as such, penalties will come down, Bastian admitted he had his concerns about the impact so many penalties could have on the aesthetic appeal of rugby league to supporters.
“I understand what the RFL are doing but something has to be better than that for us to make our sport safer because that is very, very difficult to watch and play in,” Bastian said after the game.
“My biggest concern was that if there were going to be 50, 60, 70 penalties then there is no game and no momentum. There is no game for the spectators to watch.
“I’m a big fan of the medical side, looking after players and high shots coming down but on the flip side of it, there were all those penalties for high shots and I’m not sure how many concussions there are. Hopefully there are none – and I don’t think there are – but there probably needs to be something that’s going to benefit and promote the game. That was so difficult for everybody.”
Bastian admitted for his players at least, it also changed the way the game was approached, with more ‘one-up’ rugby and a situation that took the Rhinos youngsters out of their comfort zone. “It was very complex for both teams and very complicated to play any rugby with any skill or momentum,” added Bastian.
“The rules are being challenged by the Rugby Football League. That’s fine but it made the rules more complicated tonight.”