Are the extended TMO's powers a good thing?
September 13, 2012
Northampton's GJ van Velze fell foul of the TMO's extended powers © Getty Images
Welcome to the latest edition of Tackling Rugby - our regular feature that will debate the key issues in the game.
With the latest trials and law ammendments generating as many headlines as the sparkling rugby on show in the opening rounds of the Aviva Premiership - we ask whether the extension of the Television Match Official's powers are a good thing?
ESPNscrum assistant editor Tom Hamilton argues that is a step in the right direction:
The key word in this debate is the word 'trial' - rugby is just testing the water. Admittedly, in the first two weekends of the new Premiership season there has been no shortage of controversy around the new use of the TMO.
Wasps winger Tom Varndell saw one of his scores ruled out against Harlequins as did Saracens lock Steve Borthwick against London Irish. Northampton No.8 GJ van Velze was sin-binned on Sunday for a tip tackle while Saracens winger Chris Ashton and London Irish forward also had to spend 10 minutes on the sidelines for late shoulder charges.
But the common factor in all of these incidents, aside from the annoyance felt by their respective clubs, is that they were correct decisions. We want the game to be as flawless as possible - we don't want a repeat of the Mike Phillips 'try' for Wales back in the 2011 Six Nations that clearly should not have been given or the World Cup-changing moments debated years later due to a questionable forward pass or controversial red card.
The new TMO protocols will go some way to changing this. But the beauty of the 'trial' is that it is just that and some areas of it may be changed. In the similar trial in South Africa, when the referee asks the TMO whether he has seen a forward pass or potential foul play in the build up to a try, they are restricted to two phases of play for their autopsy. In France's Top 14, referees can only investigate something that has happened within the five metre line. In the Aviva Premiership it goes back to the last stoppage in play. None of these are without fault but will help us find the right concoction.
The main bugbear seems to concern the persistent questioning of a call from the players to the referee thus rendering, some perceive, the old chivalric relationship between official and player redundant. The answer? Steely eyed decisiveness from the official. They must stay resolute and make calls on their own perception and not the substitute loose-head's. The other major criticism centres on the issue of too many breaks in play. A two minute wait is a small price to pay for a correct decision over a potentially game-changing incident. If a referee is making 10 referrals a game then clearly something needs to be done about the official and not the process.
So while it's far from perfect and players may take time to adjust, let's give it a go. The ever-commercial nature of the game means that team's financial prospects can be decided on one incident and if there is something we can do to improve accuracy and fairness then it should be applauded and not immediately consigned to history.
ESPNscrum senior editor Graham Jenkins suggests it may be a mistake:
Ref Links are great aren't they? OK, they may be a little over-priced but they can certainly add to your enjoyment of a big match and get you closer to the action with a fascinating audio insight. The crunch of a tackle and the grunt at scrum time can be intoxicating but this year they come with an a not so welcome element thanks to the extension to the Television Match Official's powers - the sounds of players appealing.
The London Double header appears to have lit the fuse on what could become an ugly and unwelcome addition to the game with players clearly heard urging the referee to consult the TMO for a variety of offences and infringements that immediately called to mind images of Manchester United players (although they are not the only ones guilty of such actions) queuing up to berate an official. Appeals are nothing new and have been evident since the original introduction of the TMO but the intensity of the objections appears to have suddenly intensified with players aware that they could perhaps wield some significant influence. We can only hope that rugby does not end up following the path of its football cousin.
The referee's word must be final and the respect he/she commands is one of the cornerstones of the game we love and by chipping away at their authority this trial has planted a seed of doubt in the minds of the officials that could impact on their handling of the game. There is of course a place for the TMO, such are the stakes and ferocity of the modern game, but as ESPN analyst Austin Healey wrote in these pages recently, their powers must be limited to end of a scoring move - as in the other trials in France and South Africa where input is limited to the 5m line and two phases respectively - and incidents of foul play.
The other trials should help provide the long-term answer not the Premiership version where play can go back to the last stoppage. Just imagine if Munster's epic 41-phase rally in the dying moments of their Heineken Cup clash with Northampton at Thomond Park last season that resulted in a dramatic match-winning drop goal for Ronan O'Gara had been called back for a minor infringement at the start of the move? On a related note, any future use of the TMO to clarify on scoring plays should also incorporate drop goals given their seemingly increasing role in any side's armoury.
There is also no guarantee that the TV replays available to officials will provide clarity or that the TMO in question will make what everyone else considers the correct call. We need referees to rise to this challenge to their authority and remind everyone who is the boss. Now that really would be worth tuning into to hear.
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