IRFU Referees to put Strong Focus on Penalising Foul Play in Domestic Game

September 14, 2016 in News

The IRFU’s Referees Department will place a renewed focus on existing foul play laws to remove illegal and dangerous collision based contact from domestic competitions in Ireland.

The areas of focus centre on foul play at the tackle, the breakdown and off-the-ball contact.  These offences will be upgraded to penalties and yellow or red cards depending on the severity of the incident.

The aim of this initiative is to soften the impact of the tackle and ruck or maul entry by removing should first or shoulder only contact. i.e. shoulder charging with no attempt or a late attempt to wrap arms upon contact.  There will also be a renewed focus on protecting players in vulnerable or prone positions in rucks and mauls.

The law interpretations will be enforced in all competitions from U13 age grade through to the Ulster Bank League. Under the umbrella of the Ref SMART programme a series of instructional videos have been produced to inform coaches and players of the illegal actions that will be clamped down on this season.  These videos are available online at

Dave McHugh, IRFU’s Referee Performance Manager, said, “This is an important initiative in creating positive on-field habits and removing illegal contact from the domestic game.  Player welfare is a key focus in our game and the referees have a role to play as do the players and coaches.  By focusing in on these areas we hope to promote positive behaviours and eradicate dangerous foul play which in turn will have a positive impact on the playing experience at all levels of the domestic game.”

LawWordingRenewed Application
10.4 (a)Punching or striking. A player must not strike an opponent with the fist or arm, including the elbow, shoulder, head or knee(s).Focus to also apply to ball carrier.  Hand off must only be a push with hand.
10.4 (e)
Dangerous Tackle
A player must not tackle an opponent early, late or dangerously.Applied as before with renewed focus.
A player must not tackle (or try to tackle) an opponent above the line of the shoulders even if the tackle starts below the line of the shoulders. A tackle around the opponent’s neck or head is dangerous play.Zero / low tolerance of high tackles or contact above shoulder height when making or attempting to make a tackle.
A ‘stiff-arm tackle’ is dangerous play. A player makes a stiff-arm tackle when using a stiff- arm to strike an opponent.Zero / low tolerance.  The tackler must attempt to grasp an opponent.
A player must not tackle an opponent whose feet are off the ground.Applied as before
10.4 (f)Playing an opponent without the ball. Except in a scrum, ruck or maul, a player who is not in possession of the ball must not hold, push or obstruct an opponent not carrying the ball.Must protect prone players without the ball. Zero / low tolerance. 
10.4 (g)Dangerous charging. A player must not charge or knock down an opponent carrying the ball without trying to grasp that player.“No arm tackle” Must be a legitimate attempt evident prior to and at the point of contact to grasp ball carrier.
10.4 (h)A player must not charge into a ruck or maul. Charging includes any contact made without use of the arms, or without grasping a player.Player joining ruck or maul must make effort to bind on a teammate or opponent.
10.4 (j)Lifting a player from the ground and dropping or driving that player into the ground whilst that player’s feet are still off the ground such that the player’s head and/or upper body come into contact with the ground is dangerous play.Tackler: Refereed as before with Zero / Low Tolerance.
Ball carrier: Can only push an opposition player. Ball carrier cannot lift defender off the ground and drop or drive defender to ground.