Our former elite official explains what can await naughty non-players on match days. First published in Rugby World in February 2021

Secret Ref: Referees can card physios and water carriers

EVERY NOW and again, incidents arise in a match that aren’t part of a referee’s ‘run of the mill’ challenges. Ever-increasing pressures of the game have increased the range and diversity of such issues.

Take the Gloucester v Sale game (in January 2021) in the Gallagher Premiership, when Billy Twelvetrees landed in hot water. Gloucester were three points behind with seconds to go. The ball went into touch close to the technical area and was picked up by a water carrier, who denied Twelvetrees possession.

Frustrated, Twelvetrees pushed him over and the ugly scenes that followed spilled into the stand. The water carrier was clearly trying to deprive Twelvetrees of the ball in order to run down the clock and ensure Sale won the match.

Typically, match officials have taken a ‘hands off’ approach to water carriers, physios, tee carriers and other bodies around the field. But there’s little doubt some people abuse their position to help their team. They are only allowed onto the field if they don’t interfere in the game, nor pass comment or distract match officials. But what authority does the referee have over non-participants? And where does the ref have authority?

Put plainly, the referee has authority over anyone in the playing enclosure, which is the whole field, plus in-goal areas and ‘perimeter area’ around the pitch, which extends at least five metres. Everyone is liable to the laws of the game so, had Twelvetrees waited, the referee could have sanctioned the water carrier (for example, a red card) and he would have faced a disciplinary hearing and potential suspension.

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