Rassie Erasmus waterboy role addressed by World Rugby: Opinion

South Africa's Director of Rugby Rassie Erasmus on November 5, 2021

The Rassie Erasmus waterboy role was addressed by World Rugby with a change in the wording of the relevant law. Head Coaches and Directors of Rugby are now both not permitted to fulfill this role.

Rassie Erasmus’s waterboy role was torpedoed by World Rugby

Erasmus is very much a Marmite character. You either love him or hate him. In South Africa, he is overwhelmingly popular for a number of reasons. This is probably due to his down-to-earth manner of taking on established norms that he believes are either absurd or archaic. He thinks very differently about the game.

Locals won’t easily forget his traffic light system atop the Toyota Stadium roof when he coached the Cheetahs. We won’t go into the merits of “that” video other than to ask if he did or did not leak it himself. The waterboy role was simply an extension of his alternative thinking. For those who have not yet watched the documentary “Chasing the Sun“, please do so. It reveals the very human side of Erasmus.

World Rugby’s overreaction

World Rugby has unfortunately overreacted to the Rassie Erasmus waterboy role. They have intentionally included the Director of Rugby position as one that cannot fulfill the waterboy role. This is in response to one individual’s actions that make no material difference. If it wasn’t Erasmus feeding the players with information, it could have been anyone else with an earpiece. The same as any other professional team. Some will disagree, but many will agree that it was enlightening to see a Director of Rugby not sit in a posh box watching his team play. Erasmus ensured he was completely involved in his team’s performance. That is the type of person he is.

Rassie Erasmus responds

In true Rassie fashion, Erasmus pointed out the absurdity of World Rugby excluding a job title from being able to carry out game-day responsibilities.


Waterboy restrictions

World Rugby has gone further to include changes to who can provide water to players and when. These are aimed at speeding up the game but do appear to be knee-jerk changes. Erasmus as well as every savvy front-row forward will already know how to get around these changes.

  1. Can only provide water to players who they are treating.
Additional personnel:
  1. Teams are permitted up to two dedicated water carriers.
  2. Water carriers cannot be a Director of Rugby or Head Coach.
  3. 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
  4. A person bringing on a kicking tee may carry one bottle for the kicker’s use only
  5. These water/tee carriers must remain in the Technical Zone at all times before entering the field of play as permitted.
Players on the field:
  1. Players may access water behind the dead ball line or from within their Technical Zone at any time.

The absurdity of restricting hydration

We will have to wait and see how the above laws play themselves out in a real game situation. These laws do seem to have been conceived with some notes written on the back of a cigarette box. These law changes are bigger than the Rassie Erasmus waterboy role. Their impact will be limited in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere. But what of the heat in South Africa and Australia? Those who have yet to experience playing in the thin, dry air of South Africa’s Highveld altitude will be desperate for a swig of water after their first sprint.

Chasing water carriers off the field will be quicker than waiting for players to return from beyond the dead ball line or Technical Area. The reality is that referees could chase water carriers off. Now, players are entitled to access water at any time according to the new law. Tactical messages will continue to be relayed to players. Nothing has changed there.

Who would the brave referee be who denies Frans Malherbe a swig of water when he feels the need? He cannot be chased up or stopped as it is written into law.

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World Rugby got to put their foot down and show who is boss. At least the deck chairs on the Titanic are in perfect formation now.


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