The TMO In The Spotlight, Again.
The Television Match Officials, or TMOs as we have preferred to call them, have been the target of much derision, disdain, and ridicule over the years. They have often been the cause of some very real confusion, and no small amount of fury when they get things wrong, really wrong, impacting negatively on the game being played out on the field, often changing the course of a tight game, and it often happens live on television. The root cause of so much anger is the fact that they have got decisions wrong with alarming frequency!
I, for one, will never forget the benighted TMO who firmly told Japanese referee Shuhei Kubo that Bryan Habana had knocked a ball on, when he clearly dropped it backwards, towards his own goal line. The referee was as puzzled by the call as were the 30 players out on that field, Habana’s astonished face was priceless, yet the referee acceded to the TMO’s call and ruled for a scrum in favour of the opposition. Who can forget George Ayoub calling for, absolutely insisting that Bismarck du Plessis to be dismissed from the field for tackling Dan Carter? Or any of the other innumerable interventions by the same George Ayoub?
Or the uncountable tries being denied or awarded that were palpably incorrect? A real issue has been the interruptions in the flow of the game when the TMO has yelled “Check, Check!” for some innocuous misdemeanour that he feels requires the entire game to be stopped so that he can review the incident over and over, often without any worthwhile conclusion. The TMO was initially introduced to provide the referee with a failsafe answer to very close calls that the referee himself could not adjudicate as he was unsighted. A bit of time-out, a couple of short slo-mo replays, and a correct decision would be good for the game. That was, and remains, a good thing. The problem has been with the continual expansion of the TMO’s duties and their uncalled for interventions in so many different aspects of the game that they actually slow the flow of the game down. Rugby is already battling to overcome the perception that it is a static, slow, and ponderous game, and then the TMO insists on innumerable replays……. Probably the single biggest problem was the clear evidence that many of the TMOs had less than a nodding acquaintance with the Law book! Calls were made that were in contradiction to the written Laws, and often contrary to the evidence we could all see on our television screens. The TMO has become a serious blight on our game. This is about to change. World Rugby have approved a “closed” trial revising the scope of the Television Match Official (TMO) in the November Tests hosted by Tier one unions.
Confirmation of the trial comes after a full review of the current global trial and the variant used in Super Rugby by a working group of match officials, coaches, players and administrators, reflecting the sport’s commitment to ensuring best-possible match officiating practice. The key objective of the review is to look at current practices with a view to reducing TMO reliance and time impact, while ensuring clear, consistent and accurate on-field decision-making. The following principles were agreed: – Try scoring should be an on-field decision with the referee being responsible, but the team of four can all contribute. – The current list of potential infringements for which a TMO can be referred will be retained, but any referral needs to be prompt, clear and consistent. – The ‘on the run’ chat between the match officials and TMO for foul play will be removed with the onus on the referee, who should only refer to the TMO issues that are clear and obvious serious acts of foul play, including penalty kick, yellow card or red card as a potential sanction in order to protect player welfare. – Match officials can review foul play up to when the game restarts, when a penalty is kicked to touch and when foul play footage becomes available. Proposal to include live broadcast of the TMO in action. World Rugby Council Member and Rugby Committee Chairman John Jeffrey said: “In reviewing the current global protocol alongside the Super Rugby protocol, the group agreed that for this trial we should place greater emphasis on on-field decision-making, with the TMO role limited to try-scoring and serious foul play, while also removing the ‘on-the-run’ conversations between the TMO and team of three match officials. “While we hope that the revised protocol will have a positive impact in terms of time impact on the game and accuracy, as with any trial, we will undertake a full review after the November window before determining whether to proceed.” In addition to the above, World Rugby has issued a law application guideline reinforcing current law for match officials in relation to high tackles and neck contact.