The Dynamics of a Tip Tackle
With the recent sending off of a player in a high profile Rugby World Cup play-off match, the Dangerous Tip Tackle has become a focus of much of the rugby public, and the seemingly heretofore unknown "Spear Tackle Memorandum" has received its greatest public airing since it was first promulgated by the IRB in June 2009.
If you look through ALL of these better known examples of sanctioned tip tackles, in every case, you can clearly identify each of what I call the five "tells" of a tip-tackle.
► Comes to a stop
► Grasps the ball carrier below the hips
► Lifts him straight upwards
► Turns him upside-down.
► Lets him go or drives him to the ground.
I have used the word "tell" for a reason. Its a gambling term, most commonly used in poker. It is the subtle involuntary behaviour that a player shows that gives them away. In this case, I believe players who commit these kinds of tackles are gambling with the well being and sfety of their opponents.
In every case that I can find, where a tackler has been sanctioned for a tip tackle, these five "tells" are identifiable. Items 2, 4 & 5 will be supplemented with pictures from Sam Warburton's tackle in the Rugby World cup Semi final. While 1-5 can be seen on the video's above, and item 3 is explained with the included video.
1. Come to a stop, or almost to a stop.
I would argue that it is nigh on impossible to commit a tip tackle (as defined in the Dangerous Tackles Memo) when running at any real speed. The tackler is almost always head-on, or close to head-on, to the ball carrier, and invariably they come to a stop, position themselves for the tackle, and wait for the ball carrier to arrive. Sure, if you had a player like Russia's Alex Yanyushkin (5 ft 5 in) tackling Brad Thorn (6 ft 5 in) it might be possible, but very unlikely.
2. Grasp the ball carrier below the hips
I would also argue that tip tackling an opponent by gripping them around the waist or above is very, very difficult to do, because the point of the grasp (or pivot point) is above the ball carrier's centre of weight. Therefore, the tackler has gravity working against flipping the Ball Carrier. However, if they grasp the ball carrier below the hips, they have gravity assisting to flip the ball carrier with the centre of weight above the grasp point.
3. Lift him straight upwards
Again, this is only really possible to any extent if the tackler starts almost from a standstill. If they are already running at speed, it is simply too difficult to bend over low enough to grasp the ball carrier "on the fly" between the knees and the hips, and then lift him up at the same time. Often we see the lifting action turn the ball-carrier over without any real attempt by the tackler to intentionally flip him. As I mentioned in Item 2 above, this happens when the centre of weight is above the point of the grasp. If the ball carrier is not standing upright and the tackler lifts directly upwards, or if the ball-carrier IS upright and the tackler doesn't lift directly upwards, then there is a "turning moment" applied the the ball carrier. The player naturally begins to rotate, the greater mass above the point of the grasp starts to fall at the same time that the tackler applies upwards force to the lesser mass at the tip point, and the rotation speeds up. You can liken this to a caber toss...
...all of the weight is above the grip point, the caber-tosser allows the caber to begin to fall forwards, then he moves forward himself to keep the caber from toppling. The caber gathers momentum, then he stops, and as the caber begins to fall, he lifts directly upwards, applying the "turning moment". This feat would be utterly impossible if the caber tosser were to grasp the pole half-way up.
4. Turn him upside-down or let the body weight of the player turn themselves upside-down.
Having done Items 1, 2 and 3, the ball carrier is now in a very unsafe position. The tackler has lifted and flipped him over, so that his upper body (head, shoulders & torso) are downwards, and gravity has taken over. At this point, it becomes difficult for the tackler to do anything about the situation, It would take a player of immense physical strength the stop the ball carrier hitting the ground upper body first if he has already started to fall.
5. Let him go or drive him to the ground.
The final "tell"... does the tackler make any attempt to to arrest his fall, or does he just let the ball carrier go to fall to the ground? Worse yet, does the tackler actively drive the player to the ground. These are the things that the referee must judge for himself. If the tackler lets go, or drives the player, then its a mandatory red card. If he attempts to arrest the fall, and at least have the ball carrier land on his back, then the referee might apply a less severe sanction. Some might wonder about the relative dangers of driving the player as opposed to dropping him. Well even though driving will result in a greater force of impact than dropping, the medical evidence is that dropping is still very dangerous. Think about a Ming vase and a concrete floor. If you throw the vase at the concrete floor from a height of 2 metres, its going to break; if you drop it from a height of 2 metres, its going to break. It may be more badly broken when you throw it, but the bottom line is, it will break whichever one you do.
Which brings me to the key question... "how to put the ball carrier on the deck without tip-tackling him". To bring the ball carrier down when running at at speed, grasping him above the hips is much more effective than below. Firstly, it is a lot easier to do; for the vast majority of players, the waist to chest area is at a much more convenient height for grasping than the thighs to knee area. Secondly, its quicker; hitting the midriff of the player in a collision tackle will get him going to deck a lot quicker than stopping, lifting him and dumping him on his back. Thirdly, it is more effective; it is more likely to dislodge the ball, and it drives the player back further over the gain line.
Note that in this video, Kahui doesn't actually hit Ashley-Cooper at full speed, even though on first viewing, it appears that way. He actually slows down, sacrificing some speed so that he can time the tackle perfectly, just a fraction of a second after Ashley-Cooper catches the ball. Timing is everything.
So in closing I would say this. If the tackler feels he MUST lift the ball-carrier off his feet, then he should at least make sure that he grasps him above the hips. He will significantly reduce his chances of getting a severe sanction, not to mention the fact that he is far less likely to put his opponent in danger of a severe spinal injury, or worse.
Original Article written by Ian Cook and reproduced here with thanks, Sam Warburton's tackle pictures added by Robert Burns.