Boise State turns to local rugby team for tips on safe tackling

Christopher WilsonSenior Writer
Dr. Saturday

As rule changes focus more and more on player safety and concussion prevention, Boise State’s football team is attempting to get ahead of the curve with some tips from another hard-hitting sport.

Broncos head coach Chris Petersen had the local Snake River Rugby Club come in to run a tackling session with his players. Snake River is coached by former U.S. national team captain Mike Saunders and features former members of the Boise football team on the roster.

Rugby tackling is different from what you normally see in football, as the head almost always goes to the side of your opponent as you make impact. There’s also the major difference that one sport involves wearing helmets (which some believe make players feel overly protected to the point they use their own heads as weapons) while the other does not. has more details from Boise defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski and Saunders:

“Football players are taught to put the helmet into the chest and drive the player back,” said Saunders. “And I know the coaches at Boise State are looking at a different way to go about it because of the issues with concussions.”

Launching into a tackle is different, too, said, Kwiatkowski. Football players have to defend every inch, whereas in rugby, unless you’re defending your goal line, you can give up a foot or two to bring the man down. How players wrap, align their bodies, and launch is all different.

“We showed them some drills that we do and some different approaches,” said Saunders. “And they were really receptive. I think there’s a good level of respect there in what we’ve done. And we have a connection with some of our players coming from that program. The guys were great and we really enjoyed it.”

Some of the new player safety rules being introduced this season include:

  • In the NFL, players are no longer allowed to lower the crowns of their helmets to deliver a blow outside of the tackle box.

  • In college, officials will be allowed to eject players who they judge as targeting a defenseless player above the shoulders.

  • In the Pac-12, they’re limiting contact in practice.

Petersen and Boise have been innovators during their rise to national prominence, getting creative with everything from the color of their field turf to the trick-laden pages of the playbook. All teams are looking to keep their players healthy and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other programs start following Petersen’s lead. As football coaching staffs from across the country look for every little edge, expect to see them work with their university’s rugby teams to gain any possible advantage in both safety and tackling effectiveness.

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