TMO ref­eree is spoil­ing the flow with point­less re­fer­rals

In­stant re­plays in the sta­dium are not giv­ing fans value for money, says Daniel Schofield

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 -

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

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