RUGBY UNION 2021 – The Billion Euros question: Tackle or… Shoulder Charge?

Background: Wallaby Marika Koroibete was sent-off, 5 minutes into the test-match Australia vs France at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on Saturday 17th July 2021 – Doubts, dilemmas, confusions, myths, ignorance, lack of proper education, moral obligations, sports ethical values, conflicts of interest, and other bits have coloured the sporting news…

So much ire and anger were generated when that whistle was blown (just once). Of course, the referee’s decision went against your beloved team, your country, the one you will defend with your life, fair enough. In this case the public and some ‘experts’ were incensed, were calling for blue murder (or murder the Blues). Australian rugby public, may I add ‘starved’ of regular decent winning… wants blood, the oppositions or the referee’s… or even the Red Cross’ Blood Bank.

Let us take a few minutes to look and examine this incident from another angle or perspective, 360 degrees holistically and pluralistically. Let us start with an ounce of empathy, shall we? The referee is professionally prepared and selected by experts to take charge of this match (and under precise instructions also). Are you a current referee? Or a former referee? Do not think so. The fellow in the middle, with the whistle (whether male or female) is The Designated Best on The Day. So, why do you feel (not think), just momentarily you feel angry, hardly done by, cheated, robbed? Do the opposition have to pay for your unlimited desire to Win? Do you want to win at all costs? Does the life and livelihood of the adversary have a price or does not? Aren’t you, your teammates and the other 15, in it together + the Ref?

Should you be unaware or unable to understand the reasoning behind ‘heads protection’ policies and protocols, I may throw a bit of light into this already murky and complex subject. These scientific interventions are due to the possibility of developing the dreaded on-set-dementia, followed almost certain by chronic depression and in some cases unsurprisingly suicide.  

Athlete’s Healthcare and Wellbeing are a need and an obligation from the powers to be, the administrators, and the Lawmakers in any sporting activity. E.g. Boxing in the last 100 years associated with the “dementia pugilistica”. In more recent years Muay Thai, full-contact karate supposedly allows for some ‘defence’ and ‘avoidance’, bur when you become groggy there is no defence. In rugby union one of the big problems comes from the insidious ‘shoulder charge’, which wittingly or unwittingly creates a higher risk of affecting the brain and spine. Paradoxically, a severance of your spine results in almost immediate quadriplegia or hemiplegia. Whereas in dementia, the deterioration (on set) may take 5, 10, or 20 years to show clear outside evidence. Conversely, the alteration of chemistry, functionality and affected behavioural patterns could start on Day 1, in the CT Scan room, or even the moment you were knocked at the head.

What is my point? There is no point here, just the Duty of Care of a professional sports administration. Individual athlete’s health is and must always be priority. If you go and read World Rugby’s website, or Rugby Australia site, and they also teach in Coaching Courses that The Focus/Mantra is SAFETY FIRST. This must be written in your employment contract (Occupational Health & Safety) , for all stakeholders to abide and respect. Or go and talk to a doctor worth its salt, or an exert scientist? – They will tell you what happens with your brain when your skull is hit (once or multiple time?). This damage can be irreparable, particularly when is not attended to properly and professionally. Quite the opposite to “She’ll be right mate a couple of days rest, and you’ll be Good as Gold”

Now, let us go to another ‘angle’. The Law Makers and the Law Enforcers. From my experiential knowledge, empiric results and scientific approach (I arrived at these views and conclusions after 50 years breathing rugby preparation and prevention. In an extreme case (as currently we have class-action proceedings with hundreds of ex-players demanding compensation because a previous non-existent ‘Duty of Care’. Today’s rugby referees are under precise instructions from their ‘employers, they are exercising that Duty of Care with contemporaneous information (obtained through the damages caused by the many different sports (contact or non-contact either), statistics amongst them incidence of depression, suicide, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s etc. So, it appears you are damn if you do, damn if you do not. Do you keep up with the news about several billion-dollar court cases currently on-the-boil? E.g., Australian Football, American Football, rugby Union and Rugby League, Football Soccer, Cricket, and even volleyball had some severe cases of Traumatic Brain Injury, it also happens in Basketball. Is your anger a sort of personal hurt ego-trips like? Have you gambled some money?

A metaphoric comparison, today after almost every case of medical mal practice, soon enough comes the writ, and if you did not have Professional Indemnity insurance is place, YOU ARE GONE. And again, who is responsible for the Game, the Show, the Business, and the after-the-stage life consequences of those loyal participants? – As I briefly mentioned above, what about the Occupational Health & Safety policies and practices?

Now, if I may, I volunteer as ‘one case’ for observation.  In 21 years, I was never paid, thus could not possibly accumulate money for retirement! – Today I have a few ‘bits’ replaced in my body (titanium knees, and others worn, but not worn out yet) as well as brain and mind under ‘mental health management’ strategies, etc. But never-ever have I passed the responsibility for my own actions or inactions, not even to my psychiatrist! – The Big ‘R’ is mine!

Furthermore, I think this pandemic World 2021, is getting people desperate to get activities, events and sports back in their agenda. Sports the great therapy/outlet for the punters and followers, it should not be confused with a potential free for all bloodbaths done by others onto others? Thus, while us ‘the Spectators’ enjoy the distribution of pain throughout. I feel and think, we all (from the top to bottom and vice versa) need to start taking more responsibility for those unnecessary risks of what we do in life. Why? Because Prevention is the best form of Protection; and better, smarter and a lot more economical than not! – One last silly question, would you try to protect your son and/or daughter from many risks of life? Let us all, PREVENT EVERYTHING IT IS PREVENTABLE!

World Rugby needs to go back to the drawing board, hire Professional Law Makers and dissect the problem. I would say:

  • TACKLING TECHNIQUE: Tackle must always below the arm pits and the tackler with both arms closing in contact. [then by definition, a shoulder hit/charge is not a tackle]
  • PARTICIANTS ATTITUDE: Must be absolutely 100% positive (Safety First).
  • In a legal and fair tackle, the risk of accidental injury must be shared by both, ball carrier and tackler. Leading with the shoulder does not.
  • Anatomically, the head has a potentially weak hinge and position, subject to wobble or rocking whiplash movements. But the shoulder doesn’t have this ‘weakness’
  • The point of shoulder impact carries at least 80% of the body weight augmented by the speed and acceleration of the charging player.

A separate section, I feel must be dedicated to the delicate and almost imperceptible notion and action of INTENT by the 31 individuals on the field (and reserves also). Coaches from their ‘bunker’ or grandstand ‘box’ could have a very detrimental influence in the equation. Succinctly put, do we have responsibility for our own actions or lack thereof?  

  1. I would define ‘good’ intent, the commitment to protect human beings (regardless of the sport, level of competition, paid or non-paid, etc. To me is more of a ‘common sensical’ approach. And not so much an imposition by the Law Book and the referee.
  2. How about extending The Rule of Law? “First, do no harm” or from the Latin, “primum non nocere” (from the original Greek), an off the rules, a professional mental disposition to accept and abide to the rules.
  3. Good intent is then about the preservation of all athletes’ health, and wellbeing, above all else (henceforth the ‘Safety First’ concept)
  4. Athletes, in this case rugby players do not sign a professional contact with the proviso of spilling blood, injuring the brain or spine, do they?
  5. After all, the 31 individuals on the field (and others) have families and friends, they need each other to play the game, play with their children or siblings, and their source of employment should not be put at risk, no matter what.
  6. Good intent is about ‘conviviality’ on and off the field, during the 80 minutes within the Laws, I will do my best to score more points than the opposition by playing, not by eliminating the opposition like ‘snippers’ do.
  7. I therefore define BAD Intent, all the opposite of the above expressed, starting from carelessness, gamesmanship, no fair play, intent to maim, etc.
  8. So, the MUST DO THING TO DO, starting at training is to lower the body, put yourself in a horizontal position, if you may; and tackle full on with both arms under the armpits. Leave the head alone!  

Thank you for reading, look forward to your reflection and contributions. I do not want to be right again! – I want to see some responsible action from the sports administrators, TV and media, insurance brokers. Sponsors why not? I saw yesterday in TV lots of alcohol and betting advertising, would you recommend tis to your kids? – So, order and discipline start from the top. This reminds me of one of my favourite quips, ‘the fish rots from the head down’.



Sports are ever so slowly adapting to a new reality, and so should you. Remember when not so long ago we used to have landline phones? Still a few around? Well, they are rapidly disappearing. Thus, senseless aggression fellas… change or peril!

Enrique TOPO Rodriguez

  • Wallaby Captain (1987) – Argentine Provinces Captain 1982 – Barbarians FC Captain (1991)
  • Founder and Convener, International Sports Sciences Forum (
  • Executive Chairman, WELLBEING LEADERSHIP & SPORT Pty Ltd
  • Mental Health Management Plans & Strategies | Psychology, National University of Cordoba + Back Dog Institute + BIPOLAR Education Foundation
  • Spinal & Neck Injuries Prevention | Scrummaging Technique and Preparation
  • Understanding Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) | Wicking Dementia Research & Education Centre Certificate, July 2021 (University of Tasmania).    

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