World Rugby shows some bottle in facing up to water carriers

Governing body moves to put a stop to staff invasions and on-pitch orgy of info exchange

It used to be sundry parched players ambling over to the touchline to ask for a drink of barley water, or occasionally a lad with a gammy leg in a baggy tracksuit running on to the pitch to offer a quencher during a naturally occurring break.

It was a sedate, unobtrusive act, a quartered Jaffa orange, a few kindly offerings of liquids to the players in, as we often lazily say, the white-hot heat of battle.

When rugby became a little dodgy drinks wise, say like the movie Caligula after founder of Penthouse, Bob Guccione, took over the direction and plot, is difficult to pinpoint.

The envisaged political satire by Gore Vidal became a madhouse of bodies everywhere as Guccione added scenes not in the original script as well as cuts that were not part of the narrative.


The stellar cast, including Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud, found themselves caught in a screenplay of questionable merit. People were ad-libbing everywhere and interpreting while the cameras rolled. It became risible and a farce.

On the rugby sideline now you have “staff” catching balls kicked to touch so that teams cannot take a fast throw. You have a blizzard of extras running on between takes, some of them incognito and passing on directions as to what to do in the next scene.

The water bottle is a ticket to cross the whitewash during brief down-times to whisper advice into the ear of the outhalf. “The money shot here lad is to kick at the left wing because, as Rugby World magazine put it, he is ‘kak’ under a high ball.”

Medics and water-bottle carriers have become powerful extras intent on changing the course of action. It is all perfectly sort of illegal. The law says: “Water carriers may only be permitted on to the playing area for the purposes of taking water to the players at such times as shall be approved by the referee.”

It was not what anybody had signed up for and in recent years it has gotten worse and worse and worse. Dear old Gielgud, well in the film, didn’t he have the good grace to slip away in a warm bath.

This week, World Rugby showed some bottle in facing up to water carriers and is about to put a stop to the staff invasions and the on-pitch orgy of info exchange. This could be a hallelujah moment in the sport.


The proposals are expected to halt the ad hoc therapy sessions, the downloading of real-time data from touchline computers, the wellbeing consultations, individual refocusing and the pull yourself together rollickings.

You have coaches with yellow bibs nominated as water carriers. You have medical staff and replacements, all with their shoulder to the wheel of making 80 per cent 85 per cent or 90 per cent 95 per cent with nobody really knowing what they are doing or saying but suspecting that it is in some way subversive.

Rugby has finally addressed the hijacking of the game and how it is being usurped by neurotic coaches and technical staff and this week the governing body made changes that make sense.

The proposals seem too obviously good for a game that has developed far too many stoppages and support actors. Part of the reasoning behind the proposed changes are to improve the flow of matches.

For this we can thank South Africa’s director of rugby Rassie Erasmus and his episode of extreme water bottling during the last British and Irish Lions tour.

His bibbed-up cameo as a runner during the series was absurd but turned out to be serendipitous as his master plan was largely responsible for World Rugby orchestrating the revision. In July, the game will begin to trial new laws to address the farce that water carriers have become.

If you haven’t run through them, soon medics can provide water only to players they are treating and they cannot field or touch a ball when it is live in play or suffer a penalty kick sanction.

Teams will be permitted up to two dedicated water carriers and they may not 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 and 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 and the 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 or aim comments at the match officials apart from medics in respect of treatment of a player. Should they engage with officials, they are sanctioned a penalty kick.

Players on the pitch may access water behind the dead ball line or from within their technical zone.

It is not likely to stop the information flow but maybe the eyesore of mass incursions. It’s an attempt to put some order on the script, remove the spectacle of 40 or 50 people freely roaming the pitch in a stalled game. Unlike the questionable Caligula with these changes, it might just smarten up rugby.