Player safety paramount in 2018 national rugby initiatives 16/02/2018 By NSW Waratahs Media unit Rugby Australia (Rugby AU) today announced significant changes to Junior and Senior Rugby aimed at ensuring maximum safety and enjoyment for all participants, with the introduction of new national Size for Age guidelines and the Blue Card concussion management system. Size for Age Guidelines – for Junior and Schools Rugby Rugby AU’s new Size for Age guidelines enable individual players to be moved into a different age group following an assessment of physical and personal development factors including height, weight, playing experience, fitness and maturity. The current participation policy allows for a player to be moved across any one of four age grades (including their true age group, one age group below, or up to two age groups above their true age group). From 2018, all Under 10 to Under 15 players deemed to be below or above an accepted height and weight range will now be subject to mandatory assessment by a qualified, independent Coach to determine which age bracket they are most suited to playing. Prior to the introduction of these guidelines, there was no standardised approach to mandating the assessment of individual players for size and age dispensation. The changes are being implemented in 2018 following an extensive research project conducted by Rugby Australia in partnership with Sydney Junior Rugby Union, Brumbies Rugby and the Australian Catholic University. The study, which has been completed over a two-year period, found that weight alone was not a strong enough factor to consider moving a player up or down in age group. Rugby Australia Head of Rugby Services, Lachlan Clark said: “The changes we have made with our size and age guidelines are aimed at making the game safer and more enjoyable for all participants, while staying true to the value that Rugby is a game for people of all shapes and sizes. “In every age group, there are exceptional cases where a junior player might be better suited to playing up or down a grade, and we now have a structured process to ensure those players are playing at a level that best suits their physical and personal development. “This is the culmination of a review which has been two years in the making and is backed by an extensive research project, which we believe puts Australia at the forefront of world Rugby in this area.” NSW Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps said the introduction of the size for age programme reinforces rugby's commitment to making the game safer for players at all levels. "I think it’s fantastic. It’s good to have kids playing against their own size and skill level, which will not only make it safer, but also keep a lot more kids in the game and enjoying their footy," Phipps said. Blue Card – concussion management tool for Junior, Schools and Senior Rugby The Blue Card system, which was trialled in 2017, will be rolled out across all competitions nationally in 2018 ensuring Rugby continues to lead the way in concussion management for individual players. Team management, medical staff and match officials have always had the responsibility to remove a player from the field if they are presenting signs and symptoms of concussion. The new Blue Card ensures the recording of such an incident, and formally triggers an off-field process to begin. Once a player is shown a blue card by the match official, they cannot participate any further in the match and are required to undergo a mandatory medical assessment and then follow a set program before returning to Rugby. Rugby Australia Head of Rugby Services, Lachlan Clark said: “The Blue Card system will be in place across all Rugby nationally from under 13 to National Rugby Championship (NRC) level, enhancing Rugby’s commitment to protecting players from the rare occurrence of concussion. “There will be ongoing structured education of Match Officials, Medical attendants, Coaches and Team Managers in the signs and symptoms and management of concussion. “Our commitment to protect players from head injuries is reinforced with strict high tackle laws with the understanding that the head is sacred across all levels of the game. The Blue Card system reinforces that player safety is paramount in our game.” Said NSW Waratahs halfback Nick Phipps: "The blue card programme is something that is very close to my heart. One of my great mates from college, Nick Tooth, passed away from a head injury in rugby. His family, amazing people, have been really strong in pushing the blue card programme and I think it’s ultimately the best thing for not only our code, but for any other code that wants to take that on as well. "Head injuries have previously been such a grey area in the unknown and now it’s so good to see not only the Nick Tooth Foundation but also Rugby AU leading the way in that head trauma area."