IRB must review TMO decision process
John Taylor
September 25, 2007

"Video referee, Craig Joubert, was just about the only person in the stadium who thought it was not a try but when I spoke to him he claimed his hands were tied by referee, Tony Spreadbury." John Taylor reports

The players are certainly under the microscope like never before - Brian Lima should surely have learned by now that, with 20 cameras covering every bit of action, you just cannot get away with those wild 'chiropractor' tackles - but so are the officials and even with the Television Match Official on hand to examine every close call they are still making mistakes.

The most important one so far was the ruling that the giant Canadian full-back, Mike Pike had made a 'double movement' before touching down for a try against Fiji in their Pool B match in Cardiff last week.

If it had been given Canada might well have won the match and that could well have given them third place in the group and automatic qualification for the next World Cup under the new rules for this tournament.

As it was they piled on the pressure during the final 10 minutes only to concede a breakaway try at the death to go down 29-16.

Video referee, Craig Joubert, was just about the only person in the stadium who thought it was not a try but when I spoke to him as we rushed off to Scotland for the next stage of this incredible marathon he claimed his hands were tied by referee, Tony Spreadbury.

'When he consulted me he indicated he was going to disallow the try but just wanted to check on the double movement,' said Joubert. 'There was definitely a stop and then a second attempt to get the ball over so I confirmed it.'

'But what about the fact that he was never held and therefore he was not tackled (which means he is perfectly entitled to go again)?' I queried.

Ah, that's the problem,' he replied. 'We spent hours discussing the protocol relating to the television match official and it was decided that he should be very specific in answering the referee's question. I did not have the right to raise the matter of whether or not the tackle had been completed because he had already made that decision.'

Joubert, a lovely man and a good referee, then tried, half heartedly, to argue that Pike only had the right to get back on his feet but held his hands up when I pointed out he was already on the line and would therefore be down again immediately.

Later, again in an airport waiting lounge, I tackled Welsh referee, Nigel Owen about the brief the referees had been given and he confirmed it had been a point of considerable debate with the IRB insisting on a very rigid code of practice.

There appears to be one group of referees who favour handing the whole responsibility over to the man who has the advantage of all the angles, slow motion and the time to take a second look if necessary - 'I was unsighted and I'm not sure about that one, so can you take a look at it for me and give me your opinion?' In other words - 'Tell me whether that was a try or not, mate!'

The other group favour the IRB line which is ultra conservative and wants the referee to be the man to make the final decision - hence the favourite referee's request to try to get the best of both worlds. 'Hi Mate - can you give me any reason why I should not award the try?'

There is also the question of exactly how far back the TMO is allowed to go.

Officially he can only be called upon to verify what has happened as a player is in the act of scoring. If the touchdown is OK but there was a blatant forward pass or knock-on before the ball reached him the TMO has no jurisdiction. This leads to ridiculous situations where the television official knows it is no try but cannot tell his colleague on the field.

Both look very foolish to all those millions watching on television.

Surely the time has come to embrace the new technology properly or get rid of it and go back to the days when the referee was the sole judge of fact. To me, that would be a total cop-out so, c'mon IRB, grasp the nettle and stop making a fool of your officials, grasp the nettle for once.

Let's face it the referee only asks for help if he is unsure so once he has done that why not hand the whole decision over to the man who can make a definitive judgement.

There will still be wrong decisions but they will be reduced enormously and the alternative is referees making up their own rules .

Rather than making a fool of their mates I can see some saying something like - 'Nothing wrong with the touchdown but are you sure the final pass was OK?'

Now that would lead to chaos!

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