Tony Ward: Over-reliance on TMO system must come under review
No rest for the wicked as our professional rugby brethren enter the festive season with the derby element to their bread and butter Pro12 campaign still to get stuck into. All eyes will be on Thomond Park on Friday and the RDS on Saturday as Munster and Leinster entertain Connacht and Ulster respectively.
Next to the Heineken Cup these are the competitive games that really capture the public's imagination. Right now, it's Munster blazing the trail a full six points ahead of second-placed Ulster and seven ahead of Leinster so something's got to give when second meets third in D4 on Saturday.
But therein lies the beauty and with it the appeal of old-time inter-provincial rugby over the holiday period.
Connacht may travel to Limerick as rank outsiders (what's new about that?) but don't tell me that Pat Lam, Craig Clarke, Dan Parks and the rest of those responsible for what transpired in Toulouse don't believe they can pitch up in north Limerick and do the same again.
Whatever about breeding contempt, familiarity, by its very nature, engenders a competitive intensity that makes these games much closer to Heineken Cup fare than a typical Pro12 fixture.
Twenty-eight points and 10 places might separate Connacht from all-conquering Munster but that won't matter a whit when green fronts up to red in Limerick.
Our one wish is that the levelling of the playing field relates to the derby aspect alone and not the elements, given the horrendous weather conditions we are all experiencing at present. I was in Murrayfield for the Edinburgh-Leinster game and quite what was to be gained from playing the game in such vile conditions is beyond me.
Apparently, there were 3,320 other hardy souls present. All I can say to that is that whoever did the counting was being very generous. I would be as critical as any of professional players struggling with core skills at the best of times; however, when the elements take over, then sympathy reigns.
Edinburgh are fast becoming an efficient and well-organised unit under former Western Province and Ulster coach Alan Solomons. Obviously Leinster can be all of that and a lot more besides but they do depend on solid underfoot and reasonable handling conditions for the total package that makes them such a potent force.
Edinburgh relished the perfect storm whereas Leinster struggled badly. On that basis, plus the only try (well crafted and well executed), they deserved to take the spoils on a miserable night at soulless Murrayfield.
By contrast Ulster, Munster and Connacht, all at home, emerged unscathed with Parks for Connacht and JJ Hanrahan for Munster providing the match-winning touches at the death, by way of pin-point accurate cross-kicks to Fionn Carr and Ronan O'Mahony in the Sportsground and Musgrave Park respectively. Significantly, no team of the eight scored more than one try.
Little surprise in that but quite apart from having to play in conditions as close to unplayable (in the Scottish capital at least) as it gets, there were two major issues that arose -- one in Murrayfield, the other in Musgrave Park, and both in the closing segments of the respective games.
In Edinburgh, and here the fault is with the law rather than the match official interpreting it, the fact that the clock is allowed tick away when the scrum is forced to re-set is beyond comprehension. With Leinster camped on the Edinburgh line and the defending team feeding, the bulk of the final two minutes were lost to completing one single scrum before the clock entered the red numbers and scrum-half Greig Laidlaw kicked the ball dead for time up.
It is frustrating for fans who are being short-changed and it is even more frustrating for players, particularly those on the side chasing the game.
Surely we are at the stage in relation to the scrum where the referee calls for a time-out while the scrum resets? Edinburgh deserved to win anyway but that is not the point.
The issue is with the current guidelines governing the collapsed scrum. Even allowing for the decrease in the number of scrums being reset because of the much-improved crouch/bind/set instruction, the amount of time being wasted is well beyond a joke.
A simple command from the referee of "stop the clock" to be followed by "restart" would make for a much more fair game all round. We're not talking rocket science here -- it is a simple solution to an unnecessary problem.
The other major talking point arose in Cork where Nigel Owens, as is now almost common practice, consulted the TMO for clearance of the final O'Mahony try and specifically whether the right wing was ahead of the kicker (Hanrahan) when boot connected with ball. Furthermore, the match official asked (of the TMO) whether there was any indication of a knock-on (by David Kilcoyne) at the breakdown preceding the cross-kick.
As it transpired, the television angle wasn't wide enough to rule on the offside issue whereas the 'knock-on' looked suspicious if not definitive.
And therein lies the problem. With match officials becoming increasingly reliant on video playback, where do you draw the line?
The nature of rugby is such that other reasons for disallowing a score could so easily be brought to the referee's attention beyond the original question asked, depending on how far back TMO wants to go.
I didn't time it but a good three or four minutes seemed to have elapsed before the Munster faithful could depart Musgrave safe in the knowledge that their team had won the match!
We're all for technology and its use in a crisis but we suspect officials are now becoming over-reliant and that can't be good for the game going forward.
I have long contended that touch judges too often renege on their responsibility when called upon to assist the man in the middle. A review of the TMO and the extent of his power is essential -- and sooner rather than later.
Either that or we settle for gridiron mark two. Don't know about you, but that for me would be hell on earth.
Poacher Corkery turns gamekeeper
He played 28 times for Ireland over a seven-year period, earning his crust with Munster and Bristol as well as competing in the 1995 (where he was named Irish Player of the Tournament) and 1999 World Cups.
David Corkery was the scourge of half-backs everywhere. Now, with a fair touch of irony, the former Cork Con breakaway, a player responsible for inflicting a fair share of pain on opponents in his time, is sales manager to Vivomed -- just appointed official medical supplier to the IRFU. The Ireland-based specialist sports medicine company will provide all the IRFU's pharmaceutical, first aid, physiotherapy and medical supplies from 2014 on.
Principle alone dictated my Springbok withdrawal
It was brought to my attention that following a piece I contributed to these pages on the death of Nelson Mandela, a reader questioned my motivation for not returning to South Africa with Ireland in 1981.
The suggestion apparently was that I was prevented (one can only assume by the Department of Education) from touring South Africa anyway, therefore what's the big deal?
No big deal at all, but to the person concerned I would point out that my teaching career did not begin until 1985.
I did not take part in that tour on a matter of principle, a matter of conscience based on what I experienced -- and I have made this clear many times since.
I feel as passionately now as I did back then about that decision.
I did what I believed was the right thing to do -- there was no other agenda whatsoever.