Wednesday 21 February 2018

The Great Debate: Has the influence of the TMO gone too far?

General view as a decision goes to the TMO during Saturday's game
General view as a decision goes to the TMO during Saturday's game

Cian Tracey and Ruaidhri O'Connor

Yes says Cian Tracey - Following the soporific nature of last Friday's stop-start slog between England and Fiji, there was a moment in Ireland's win over Canada that gave me hope that all hope is not yet lost.

Ian Madigan shipped a big hit that was fractionally late but he still managed to find Rob Kearney with a pass.

During the next 13 seconds in which the full-back scored a try at the other end of the pitch, the TMO spoke with referee Glen Jackson while the play was going on.

The message was simple. He had seen the late tackle and informed Jackson to speak with the player and issue a warning.

There was no need to review the incident, it was a simple case of two officials consulting with each other while the play continued. No need for a stoppage.

During New Zealand's victory over Argentina the following day, a similar theme occurred with referee Wayne Barnes. He isn't to everyone's taste but Barnes couldn't be faulted for his use of video technology.

World Rugby were quick to respond to the criticism surrounding the use of the TMO and pointed out that "28pc of stoppage time in the opening match was taken up by the TMO process" but the fact remains that the first half alone lasted a staggering 52 minutes.

Worryingly, that is becoming a regular occurrence.

At the end of the day, players, coaches and supporters alike want the correct decision to be reached but there has to come a point where officials must trust their instinct.

In the same way that the TMO communicated with the referee during the course of play, touch judges could be doing a lot more to assist.

IRELAND TEAM FIXTURES 2018

Date / Time Teams

Far too often, their instinctive reaction is to encourage the referee to go upstairs and review a try-scoring decision when more times than not they have the best view of the incident.

Several

Johnny Sexton's try against Canada is a prime example. Watching it at the Millennium Stadium, I had no idea why the TMO was needed and having watched it back several times since, I'm still none the wiser.

The supporters understandably become increasingly frustrated which in turn heaps further pressure on the referee.

Last Sunday at Wembley, Barnes had the eyes of almost 90,000 people watching him and that itself is a massive amount of pressure but a lot of it could be avoided.

Referees Jaco Peyper and Craig Joubert (who refereed the last World Cup final) had weekends to forget when it came to using the TMO.

After consulting with the TMO, Joubert wrongly awarded Noa Nakaitaci a try for France but changed his decision when he saw another replay of the incident just as Freddie Michalak was lining up the conversion.

Similarly, Peyper very nearly missed a knock-on by Fiji's Niko Matawalu despite the use of the TMO.

In both instances, it shouldn't have taken as long as it did to reach the correct decision. Two comical moments that sadly typify the current problem in the game.

This is the first time that Hawk-Eye has been used at a World Cup, which seem to have encouraged referees to use the video technology more often than usual.

Not even Hawk-Eye is correct 100pc of the time (just ask the Limerick minor hurlers). All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rather fittingly summed up the issue.

"At the end of the day it's obviously a new toy they're playing with, Hawk-Eye, and people are getting a bit excited about it but it will calm down."

We live in hope but for the time being at least, rugby is running the risk of allowing video technology take over a sport that has always been imperfect.

No says Ruaidhri O'Connor - Boos rang out around the Millennium Stadium as the show stopped for a couple of minutes. Watching referees watch the big screen is not what the paying punter wants to see.

But Ireland fans should remember a previous visit to Cardiff before they complain about overuse of the television match official (TMO) as Les Kiss recalled this week.

When Jonathan Kaplan and his officials missed Matthew Rees throwing the incorrect ball to Mike Phillips for a the match-winning try during the 2011 Six Nations, there was no recourse to go upstairs and check.

Ireland's Six Nations turned on that moment and it was one of the catalysts for the powers of the video referee being expanded the following year.

That has brought about better decisions, but the down side has been long delays that are unpopular with fans and frustrating for players.

Is that price worth paying for correct decisions?

I believe it is; indeed it is becoming increasingly apparent that the powers of the TMO don't go far enough.

With all the focus on the length of the stoppages during England's opening-night win over Fiji, the fact that referee Jaco Peyper failed to take a second look at the passage of play that led to the hosts' opening try before awarding a penalty try and a yellow card to Niko Matawalu.

Considering he checked almost every other decision with Shaun Veldsman up in the booth, it seemed remarkable that he was willing to make such a game-changing decision without a second look.

Had he reviewed it, he might have noticed that the English rolling maul had twice marched forward without a Fijian opponent engaged, rendering the maul complete and so the attacking team were obstructing the tacklers.

Transgression

When Matawalu stopped Tom Youngs on the line, the England hooker had left the maul altogether in his lunge for the line. The Fijian came from an offside position, but his wasn't the first transgression as he held the ball up over the line but he was sent to the sin-bin.

Later, Irish official John Lacey watched Nemani Nadolo rise highest to collect a cross-kick and score, but doubted himself and asked Peyper to check.

It was a pain for those in the crowd who just wanted the game to flow, but if he wasn't sure he was right to have a look.

At this stage, it seems clear that rugby needs to follow the lead of American football and check every scoring play a second time.

As it stands, the TMO can alert the referee to an infringement if he spots it before the conversion is taken, but that is a short period of time to get it right.

It might lead to delays, but at least the decision would be correct. Either you use the technology or you don't - it can't be indiscriminate in the way it was at Twickenham.

Certainly, the process doesn't have to be as slow as it was that night when the first half lasted 52 minutes and World Rugby have pledged to reduce the time spent on the TMO as much as they can.

The introduction of the man in the booth reviewing footage as the game goes on is welcome, cutting out the long passages of the referee gazing up at the screen while the entire stadium waits and whistles.

It's not ideal, but the most important thing is to get as many decisions as possible right while reducing the amount of time the players are standing around idle.

The TMO process can be improved, but it hasn't gone too far. Indeed, there is a case to be made that it hasn't gone far enough.

Irish Independent

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