Tackling in rugby and American football are fun to do and fun to watch, but they often cause different kinds of injuries to bones, muscles, and, most concerning, to the brain. Ball carriers are commonly though to be at the greatest risk, as they’re the targets that require tackling. Yet, it turns out that ball carriers, at least in rugby, end up having to undergo head injury assessments more frequently. The rules of play and common courtesy have focused on the safety of ball carriers and where on their bodies they should and should not be targeted. Turns out that at least as much attention should be given to the safety of the tacklers themselves, something that Isaac Newton in his third law of motion essentially predicted.
Bioengineers at Trinity College Dublin have been studying tackling in rugby and they have identified that going for the pelvis area, aka the lower trunk, generally results in better statistical outcomes for the tacklers. The team used the MADYMO simulator from Siemens to create models of humans that were tackled by other virtual humans within a computer, but also had professional rugby players perform tackles while inside a special room with cameras, markers, and trackers that can chart the movement of different body parts in high resolution.
While the findings are useful, and should give tough guys some pause to think of how to play safely for their own sake, they will hopefully lead to more on-field analysis to verify them. Moreover, it’s not clear whether the same findings apply to American football in which common tackling techniques and gear are different from rugby.
Related studies: Can tackle height influence head injury assessment risk in elite rugby union?; Could lowering the tackle height in rugby union reduce ball carrier inertial head kinematics?