Far too many rugby players are making the same mistake when it comes to tackling
"Techniques are horrendous."
James Downey believes the tackling techniques in schools and club rugby needs a serious look at, and that professional players are often setting a poor example.
The former Munster and Ireland centre joined The Hard Yards podcast and spoke with conviction [from 54:00] about how players are picking up injuries that can be easily avoided with some work on the training ground.
While answering a listener question on whether intent should be a mitigating factor in the handing out of yellow or red cards, Downey struck upon the topic of poor tackling technique. He begins:
"The way players are tackling now makes a big difference... if you look at it now in America, they have a line across the jerseys that's a certain height and you have to tackle below that height.
"Everyone is hitting so much higher, even in underage. I coach some underage kids and they're all, every single one of them, tackling up high. No one tackles low any more. No one goes around the ankles. You look at the Japanese against South Africa [in the 2015 World Cup], they chop them around the ankles and they fall like trees."
While the chop tackle has often been criticised for injuries being sustained by ball carriers, the high tackle method often results in the tackler coming off worse. For example, Johnny Sexton has a tendency to tackle high up and it has resulted in him shipping a couple of bad knocks [Sexton vs. Mathie Bastareaud in February 2015 springs to mind].
"Personally I think it has a huge amount to do with concussions, and I'm opening a huge can of worms saying that.
"Techniques are horrendous. Players are coming in so upright and they do have this machoness of 'I've been in the gym and I've been doing my weights so I'm going to absolutely kill someone'.
"You don't need to absolutely kill someone 9 times out of 10. You might get in a good shot once, but even if you take them around their ankles... Even on bigger players, people go in high. I remember with Munster, we played Leone Nakarawa and he was carrying the ball in one hand. You get like a kid and you're trying to knock the ball out of his hand, but you actually go, 'Hang on, I just need to tackle him and stop him making yards'."
In terms of addressing tackling technique, Downey feels there are a couple of simple steps to begin with.
"Even lads playing fully pro, their techniques are absolutely horrendous," he says. "You see they're getting their heads the wrong side and fellas getting knocked out.
"Back to what you're doing as a kid and on your knees tackling. They walk in beside you and you get your head in behind the bum and push them.
"Lads just throw themselves in front of people now. It's recklessness and it's just not smart."