Unleash the Season!! And Ask – TMO – Yes or No?

Is it Christmas?

Well with the excitement and expectations of a more competitive Premiership Rugby season soon to unwrap, it certainly feels like it, and I take the chance to look at the TMO.

The TMO can create suspense, drama, disappointment or elation, and in some instances, as in last season – bewilderment and disbelief.

For those people who have never seen a rugby union match, the TMO is the Television Match Official.  And with the best intentions of fairness, the TMO has been used in rugby union since 2001. 

A person sits in a studio in the stadium, or in an outside broadcast van if the match is televised, and watches replays of incidents – usually potential tries but also forward passes and infringements that can lead to warnings, penalties and cards – attempting to clarify exactly what did happen.

But they aren’t always consulted and the decision to consult is down to the referee.

The ups and downs of last season demonstrated the difficulties and pressure in quick decision making and that quite a lot is open to debate.

I remember one incidence where the referee consulted the TMO regarding a line-out and the TMO informed him that there was no time – the match finished prematurely, 9 seconds early – robbing a team of a chance to reverse the match outcome.

Then another incident happened where the TMO decided on a ‘No Try’ and the referee overruled him and awarded the try anyway.

‘Then six minutes from half time Leicester scored their second controversial try as a driving maul pressured the home side back, enabling Leicester’s tight head prop Logovi’I Mulipola to crash the ball over the line. However, with referee JP Doyle going to the TMO, it was clear to see the ball was held up but the referee gave the try anyway.’ (http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014_02_01_archive.html)

And then of course there is the ‘crooked feed’ conundrum;

‘And there you have it, the moment we were all waiting for, an official to make an irrational decision to penalise Gloucester for not feeding the ball straight in the scrum. Expected? Yes. Amazed? No. Frustrated? Very; especially as Luke Pearce hadn’t brought this to our attention for the last seventy-odd minutes! (http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014_02_01_archive.html)

‘Gloucester restored their pride today but this episode begs the question, if TMO’s are called upon to verify what did happen, when can they be called upon to clarify what didn’t happen? Discuss.’

Not to mention the TMO decisions of the Aviva Premiership Final which have been described as a ‘shambles’ by Saracens Chief Executive Edward Griffiths where it took four minutes to award Northampton’s winning try and there were also two disallowed tries. (One actually awarded – points on the board – and then reversed).

‘On closer inspection by Graham Hughes the TMO, the pass to Farrell was ruled forward, the try was disallowed and the score reversed.  Disbelief and shock swamped the Saracens supporters, not to mention the players. Farrell hobbled off with a leg injury.’ (http://rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014_06_01_archive.html)

As a rugby player and a fan, I’m sure that the whole rugby family would like to see consistency, fairness and a clear demonstration of attempts to ensure fairness.

The effort and commitment of such a physical and sometimes dangerous game for these professionals deserves no less.

And as the global trial of TMO conducted by the IRB comes to an end in August, are there any better solutions?

Of course the ‘You cannot be serious!’ episodes have been successfully eliminated at the Wimbledon Tennis Championships with the introduction of technology developed by Hawkeye.

It has also been used on goal-lines in football but the UEFA president Michel Platini prefers to advocate using extra officials behind the goal, a method used in the Champions League, Europa League and Italy’s top division.

But this isn’t a viable solution for rugby because of the length of the try line and differing nature of each different try.

Hawkeye believes its technology can significantly increase the speed of decision-making in rugby and its’ technology consists of cameras at multiple angles which can synchronise within a few seconds.  Information about whether the ball crosses the line is provided by computer tracking but still video replays would be needed to judge grounding.

Paul Hawkins, Hawkeye’s founder, states that the system is a much cleverer way of looking at incidents and in Aussie rules, it has halved the average time in which decisions are made.

He has also stated that the company are in conversation with Premiership Rugby and the IRB regarding the product.  But of course, the Hawkeye system would be much more expensive than the current TMO system which uses the existing TV feeds.

With the ever growing audiences for rugby and the World Cup around the corner, with so much at stake, would it be an exciting, professional and positive move forward?

Aviva Premiership Rugby, the RFU and IRB are committed to doing everything in their power to make sure they help the match officials get every decision right.  Of course they became the first league in the world – at considerable cost – to introduce the Television Match Official into every match, not just those that are televised live.

So will rugby union be using this technology anytime soon?

Well this is rugby, it’s not tennis; one ball, one line – or football; one ball, one line.  Sometimes it’s a ball, a line and a body, but a lot of the time it’s a ball, a line and a lot of bodies and that’s where the problem lies (pardon the pun). So maybe the right decision is to keep the TMO.

Until someone designs technology that can confirm the ball has crossed the line coupled with ‘in-ball’ technology which detects a ‘grounding’ along with ‘whose hand was on the ball when it was grounded?’ Are we ever going to be satisfied that we have found a coverall solution?

And what are a few minutes anyway if the outcome is the fair and accurate one in the end?  Sometimes it’s quite fun; fans start talking to each other, take selfies, discuss the vagaries, get to know each other, and it gives the players a well deserved breather too. 

However at other times as we all know, the communication between the referee and TMO has appeared totally inconsistent and the game can come to a grinding halt.

The anomalies that seem to need to be addressed are the human ones at ground level.

To take the decision of the TMO or overrule it? 

Or to use the TMO to verify a crooked feed? 

Or to consult or not to consult – Try yes or no? 

These are the questions.

By Rhiannon Chandler-Day


To see more from Rhiannon, please check out her rugby blog at: rhiannonsrugbyunionblog.blogspot.co.uk

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