TMO referee is spoiling the flow with pointless referrals
Instant replays in the stadium are not giving fans value for money, says Daniel Schofield
There was a wild animal on the prowl last night at Twickenham. Not the bull that was the figurehead of the Opening Ceremony, but a far more dangerous beast – a Television Match Official with the need to justify his existence.
That is the problem with technology – the supposed panacea for all football’s woes. Once you give someone the access to a television screen and the power to intervene, just watch and wait for the God complex to develop. Shaun Veldsman, for it was he, was the man with his thumb on the button – and boy did he abuse it.
All flow and momentum was sucked from the first half with four referrals going upstairs, only one with any justification. Then came the dithering. By the letter of the law, correct decisions were reached but at the price of ruining the first 40 minutes as spectacle.
The half-time whistle eventually blew at 20.53. If every game follows this pattern, the final may have to be rescheduled for around Christmas time. People pay good money and tune in from their sofas to watch the thrill of sport, not an episode of CSI. Remember, the pur- pose of the TMO is to be used only when the referee is in serious doubt or has missed a serious incident. Note the word serious.
Instead, we were treated to two early examples of the TMO checking incidents so trivial in the that it is a wonder that he did not bring attention to a few socks that had not been pulled up.
The first incident occurred when Akapusi Qera lifted Jonny May up by one leg. Straight away, the Fiji captain realised that he was in danger of tipping his former Gloucester teammate on his head, so he gently lowered him to the floor.
No harm was done and Jaco Peyper, the South African referee, had a perfect view of the incident. He saw nothing wrong in it. But then the replay went up on the big screen and, of course, the crowd bayed for blood. Like a Roman Emperor at the Colosseum, Veldsman felt that he had to satisfy the baying mob and signalled the thumbs down. The only saving grace was that he did not award a yellow card.
And so England had a penalty. That was kicked to the corner, England’s forwards formed an excellent maul that was illegally brought down on the try line with the result of a penalty try.
The second incident occurred soon after as Api Ratuniyarawa, the Fiji lock, flew into the ruck with minimal use of his arms. Again, Peyper had a view of the incident but chose not to act until the voice in his ear piped up. A slew of replays followed, the crowd groaning with boredom on each one.
World Rugby have recently urged officials to clampdown on such behaviour, but if every such clear-out was penalised, then rucks would cease to exist.
Of course, the worst cases should be stamped out as they pose a serious risk, but let’s not forget that physicality is an essential part of rugby’s fabric. Are these the type of incidents that the TMO was designed to police? Hardly.
Their main purpose was to check if a try had been scored, although it again took the intervention of the crowd to alert the officials to the fact that Nikola Matawalu had failed to ground the ball after his sensational individual score. One replay told everyone in the stadium that. Instead, Veldsman opted for 10.
Even if the right decision was arrived at, it is highly unsatisfactory that replays are having such an effect on the outcome of the game.
The other insidious effect of the TMO is that it robs the official on the ground in all confidence of making decisions on their own volition.
Moments after Matawalu’s try was disallowed, Ben Volavola kicked across field to Nemani Nadolo who rose high above Anthony Watson to claim and score. The assistant referee was no more than centimetres away from the incident – but, no, his eyesight could not be trusted and upstairs it went. Needlessly. Pointlessly. Infuriatingly.
If England enjoyed the benefit of the TMO’s assistance in the first half, they too found out the nuisance value in the second.
Tom Wood was attempting to clear Leone Nakarawa out of the path of a maul. His arm went high, too high in fact, so that when he threw Nakarawa to the ground, he did so by the neck. If the referee had seen it, he would have awarded a penalty. He didn’t but it is hardly the type of incident that needs bringing to his attention.
Rugby is not a perfect game. Players bend the rules. You will never witness a game where a referee gets every decision spot on. So accept that and move on. Technology is fine if it eliminates injustice but not if it ruins spectacles.
On top of the world: England’s World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson at the opening ceremony