New Zealand
'TV producers are influencing Tests'
Sam Bruce
November 11, 2014
Nigel Owens halted Beauden Barrett's conversion after seeing a replay on the big screen © Getty Images

The International Rugby Board (IRB) has thrown its support behind under-fire referee Nigel Owens as the technology debate shifts towards the legitimacy of big-screen replays.

The Welshman on Monday received the governing body's backing for his use of the Television Match Official (TMO) in New Zealand's 24-21 win over England at Twickenham.

Owens has come in for heavy criticism over the last couple of days, particularly in New Zealand, for his use of video technology and the decision to overrule the fourth official in the sin-binning of Dane Coles. But the major talking point from the hard-fought encounter was Owens' decision to review a try to All Blacks prop Charlie Faumuina, which he had awarded just moments earlier, after watching replays on the big screen.

The five-pointer eventually stood but All Blacks coach Steve Hansen questioned the fairness of the situation post-game, saying home sides carried the advantage of controlling big-screen replays through the host broadcaster. "My biggest concern is that the TV producers are starting to have an influence on the game," Hansen said. "If something goes wrong, we see a replay 10 times even though the referee hasn't seen it, the touch judge hasn't seen it, the TMO hasn't seen it."

But the IRB has defended the system, and Owens, saying all protocols were followed. "Technology exists in the form of the TMO and on-demand replays to assist the match official team with correct decision-making. The team applied the protocol correctly," the spokesperson said.

The use of big-screen replays has become a hot topic of late with the Test between the Springboks and All Blacks in Johannesburg providing another controversial stoppage, and TMO interjection. Replacement Patrick Lambie kicked a late penalty to give the Springboks a 25-24 victory, but only after the TMO had intervened and alerted referee Wayne Barnes to an illegal tackle being shown on the stadium's big screen.

Hansen had no problem with decision in that instance, just the way it was reached. And it's a view shared by former All Blacks No.10 Andrew Mehrtens who believes TV producers now have the ability to influence the outcome of a Test.

"We saw it in Johannesburg, and now we've seen it again at Twickenham, and it's creating a scenario where "home advantage" is being taken to an unacceptable level," Mehrtens wrote for .

"It's dangerous. How can you say things are impartial when you've got a local TV type deciding images that are played over and over again, and a home crowd responding and putting subliminal pressure on the refereeing team?

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen believes coaches should have the use of a challenge system © Getty Images

"How many shots did we see of English players indulging in borderline acts? Or in Joburg did we see replays of any Springbok hits off the ball? That's where the shades of grey occur. You seldom see questionable moments from the home team replayed ad nauseam.

"I'm not sure what the solution is, because clearly there is a place in the game for technology to assist in on-field rulings. And I understand that replays enhance the live experience. But it's the selective nature of it that concerns me."

Referees are obviously under immense pressure; but in the lead-up to next year's World Cup the number of controversial decisions seems to be on the increase.

Owens, along with South African Craig Joubert, had been regarded as among the game's best whistleblowers but his curious display at the weekend, and a similar effort in Argentina's defeat of Australia in Mendoza, have dented his reputation. Former referee Jonathan Kaplan said Owens lacked consistency at Twickenham but was confident the Welshman could bounce back. "I'm not convinced about Nigel Owens' performance at the breakdown or the TMO reviews he referred," Kaplan wrote on his website

"Cruden's try was worthy of review at the very least, and there were others that were only reviewed once the kicker was getting ready with the conversion, only to finally work out that the try had been scored before the advertising line but well past the tryline. There was so much inconsistency and hesitancy at the post-tackle phase from the referee. I still have faith in him, but in order to stay at the top of the tree he needs to be on top of his game week in and week out."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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