It is time for a major change to the TMO protocol?
“TMO Check” is gradually becoming the most dreaded phrase to hear at a rugby stadium. The general consensus among rugby fans is that is it now being overused in the modern game, and has tarnished rugby’s reputation for being a fast-flowing and entertaining sport. Despite the apparent over-usage, referees are still being criticised for not using the TMO, notably in circumstances where they are actually not allowed to utilise it. With the 2016-2017 under the belt in the Northern Hemisphere, one can only wonder what sort of an influence the TMO will continue to be on the sport.
The introduction of the TMO in 2001 was a major step forward in rugby union, the use of technology to aid decision-making was not common in the world of sport. Rugby Union had and still has the moral high ground over other sports that have yet to incorporate technology. Despite the improvement to the sport it has also caused major problems and controversies. The rules regarding its usage have changed over the years and one can only hope that these rules will be set in stone in the years to come.
The TMO was a major point for discussion at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Without a doubt the use of the TMO has increased the amount of stoppages in rugby, in England’s opening match versus Fiji the TMO accounted for 28% of the overall stoppage time during the encounter. With just over two years until the World Cup in Japan, there will no doubt be adjustments made to the laws of the game in this time period. Statistics released by World Rugby show that the 2015 World Cup saw 74 more TMO referrals than in 2011, totalling 132 referrals in the 48 games. This creates an average of 2.8 referrals per game, an unexpectedly low figure.
The biggest controversy surrounding the TMO was in Scotland’s quarterfinal defeat to Australia 35-34. The Australians were awarded a seemingly correct penalty in the last minutes of the match to secure their semi-final spot. However, upon seeing the replay it was clear that the wrong call had been made. South African referee Craig Joubert was heavily criticised for not referring to the TMO, costing Scotland a historic win.
The World Rugby statement regarding the use of the TMO shows that Joubert could not refer to the TMO in the circumstances. Rugby fans were quick to criticise the laws surrounding the possible usage of the TMO. Seeing as the Television Match Official can be used to verify a try has been scored or whether a kick has been successful, the option for TMO referral for a dubious penalty such as seen in Scotland vs Australia could be incorporated into the law book.
A potential solution for such circumstances would be to introduce a challenge system as seen in tennis and American Football, whereby the captain would be entitled to a certain amount of challenges, giving the referee no option but to refer to the TMO for a decision. With a small amount of challenges available to them (perhaps three per half), captains would have to be wise in their choice to use it.
World Rugby should make the most of being able to introduce trial laws (as seen with the point scoring system) if it means the sport will benefit from such a change. The challenge system would also prevent the rest of the team demanding the referee to refer to the TMO when certain decisions or omissions have been made, an occurrence that happens all too often and arguably brings the integrity of the game into disrepute.
Asking the referee to refer to the TMO seems to have become a way to get around the zero tolerance of arguing with the referee or questioning his decisions.
A challenge system would limit the influence the players have over the referee regarding referring to the TMO, thus reducing the number of times the referee is likely to refer. To mirror the challenge system in tennis, if the captain’s challenge is successful, his tally remains as it was, if unsuccessful, his tally decreases by one. Such a system would reinforce the importance of the captain’s role as the means of communication between the team and the referee, and would clamp down on the incessant requests made to the referee to consult with the TMO.
The laws of the game will never be flawless, and opinions among “experts”, referees and players will undoubtedly differ. Video review has developed considerably since its introduction to rugby in 2001, and will most likely continue to do so as the game changes and adaptations are needed.
Jay Williams, Pundit Arena