World Rugby have announced new rules to clamp down on disruption from backroom staff during matches after ruling it was "getting out of hand".
For the first time, teams can be sanctioned because of the actions of non-playing personnel, with sides to now have a penalty awarded against them for indiscretions.
The World Rugby Council has revealed its global trial to limit the number of incidents where non-playing personnel enter the field of play during a match, which comes into force after July 1. A revised protocol is coming in for when medics and water carriers can enter the field to reduce potential interference, and a set of sanctions will be available for "any action that either interferes with play or is against the values of the sport".
Incidents during last summer's Lions tour, in particular, were a cause for frustration for fans as a member of the Springboks' backroom staff was on the pitch during a crucial moment in the third Test. In this year's U20s Six Nations, too, a member of England's medical team was criticised for his response to a potential concussion as he piled pressure on the referee to keep his player on the field.
Both types of incidents are among those to be clamped down upon, along with the water carrier role famously occupied by South Africa's Rassie Erasmus in last summer's Lions series. At the time, regulations said only the head coach was prevented from water carrying so Erasmus was able to deliver coaching instructions to players on the field.
World Rugby say the new trials are aimed to improve the flow of matches by reducing unnecessary stoppages without compromising welfare, enhance the spectacle for fans and support match management by officials. It follows an "extensive review" 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".
World Rugby say water/tee carriers must remain in the technical zone at all times before entering the field of play, and 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. The same sanction would apply if a medic fields or touches a ball while it's in play. This will bring an end to backroom staff catching kicks to prevent the opposition from taking a quick lineout.
On water carrying, teams can have up to two people doing this, but they cannot be a head coach or director of rugby. In elite-level rugby, water carriers will only be allowed to enter the field twice per half at periods agreed with match officials but only during a stoppage in play or after a try has been scored. It will hopefully lead to less breaks in play, with the second Lions Test lasting 115 minutes last summer.
Anyone bringing on a kicking tee can carry one bottle for the kicker's use. Medics will only be able to provide water to players who they are treating. Players may access water behind the dead ball line or from within their technical zone at any time.
As for officials, the changes mean nobody should approach, address or aim comments at the match officials, save for medics in respect of treatment of a player. Anyone flouting this rule will see a penalty kick awarded to the other team.
The global governing body say the trials have been devised in partnership with unions and stakeholders, while the International Rugby Players - the global representative body on issues of importance to professional players - are supportive of the changes.
The trials will be in force for all competitions after July 1, 2022, including this autumn's Rugby World Cup (women's) in New Zealand and next year's World Cup in France (men's).
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."
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."