The World Rugby Council has approved a global trial limiting the opportunity for non-playing personnel to enter the field of play during a match. Operational for all competitions and stand-alone matches starting after 1 July 2022, World Rugby said in a statement on Tuesday that the trial aims to ”improve the flow of matches by reducing unnecessary stoppages without compromising welfare”.
According to Reuters, the move is to limit the kind of on-field coaching that was controversially employed by South Africa against the British & Irish Lions last year.
SA’s Rugby Director Rassie Erasmus sauntered onto the field in a tracksuit and water carriers’ bib and “frequently ran onto the pitch with a tray of drinks as cover to pass instructions to his players as the Springboks took a narrow series win”, said Reuters. “He was ridiculed by his opposite number Warren Gatland but insisted he was operating within the rules.”
Today (Tues 17 May) World Rugby took its first steps to stopping rugby directors like Erasmus, or head coaches, from using the cover of ‘water carriers’ to coach inside the field, by announcing its trial.
World Rugby said: “The trial follows an extensive review by the international federation of the current elite rugby environment, including research into player hydration needs, and increasing disruption to play caused by multiple water carriers entering the field of play every time there is a stoppage.
“The new trial for non-medical personnel sets out a revised protocol for when medics and water carriers, can access the field of play, limiting the ability to interact with the match officials, and providing a sanctioning framework for any action that either interferes with play or is against the values of the sport.
“The aim of the trial is to improve the flow of the game, reduce the opportunity for potential interference, enhance the spectacle for fans and support match management by match officials.”
The trials have been devised in partnership with unions and key stakeholders, in particular International Rugby Players who are supporting the changes.
For all competitions, including Rugby World Cup 2021 playing in 2022, Rugby World Cup 2023 or stand-alone matches that begin after 1 July 2022 the following adjustments to Law 6 will apply:
- Can only provide water to players who they are treating
- Cannot field or touch a ball when it is live in play (sanction: penalty kick)
- Teams are permitted up to two dedicated water carriers
- Water carriers cannot be a Director of Rugby or Head Coach
- In elite-level rugby, water carriers will only be able to enter the field of play twice per half at points agreed with the match officials – this can only be during a stoppage in play or after a try has been scored
- A person bringing on a kicking tee may carry one bottle for the kicker’s use only
- These water/tee carriers must remain in the Technical Zone at all times before entering the field of play as permitted. Any attempt to field or touch the ball while it is live in play, including the technical zone, will be sanctioned with a penalty kick.
- No-one should approach, address or aim comments at the match officials, save for medics in respect of treatment of a player. Should this happen, the sanction will be a penalty kick.
Players on the field
- May access water behind the dead ball line or from within their Technical Zone at any time
Mark Harrington Chief Player Welfare and Rugby Services Officer at World Rugby said: “Helping the game to flow better whilst not compromising on the welfare of players is a key aim of these trials. We’re taking concrete action to improve the flow of rugby matches, this will be the first time teams on the field of play could be sanctioned by the actions of those not directly involved in the contest.
“We’ve received feedback from across the game that the number of people who aren’t players, interrupting the flow of the game was getting out of hand. But we needed to tackle the issue without impacting on the welfare of players and providing them with everything needed to perform at the highest level. I’d like to thank all our partners and stakeholders who have helped us strike the right balance with this new trial.“
Christian Day from England’s Rugby Players Association said: “Players’ views are of the utmost importance and so it was vital to be able to contribute some of the viewpoints we were given around non-playing individuals entering the field of play and how this has evolved within the modern game.
“We feel that a common-sense position has been reached which should not have a negative impact on player welfare while hopefully reducing unnecessary stoppages and potential negative flashpoints during matches.”