England v France. Craig Joubert: croissant-hating anti-French ref (with a French sounding surname), or a top official who, maybe, got some decisions wrong on the day?
The sensible non-partisan view is that he probably got a couple of big calls wrong (Vunipola hands in the ruck and the Tuilagi try). Now take a step back and ask what percentage of all the decisions he makes during a game are correct (90%, 95%, more?) and how many people on the planet could do a better job? Anyway, it probably all evens out at the end of the day, doesn’t it?
The path to ensuring a “better job” is an interesting one: the development of referees is an area in which the IRB and country governing bodies from the elite / professional level right down to grass roots have invested much time and effort in recent years. At elite level, to continue the improvement in accuracy, this path increasingly leads to the in-match support of the TMO. The drive to ensure correct decisions, especially match-deciding critical incidents means the use of technology will probably continue and with it the dramatic but often disruptive impact to the flow of the game.
Extended TMO powers are currently being trialled in various competitions across the globe (but NOT the Six Nations yet). Here is a summary of what is being trialled in addition to the existing remit of the TMO:
– When match officials are unsure whether foul play has occurred anywhere on the field or in-goal
– When match officials believe there may have been an infringement by the team that scored a try
– When match officials believe a try was prevented by an infringement (knock-ons, forward passes, player in touch, off-sides, obstructions, etc…)
– To confirm the success or otherwise of kicks at goal
How does the TMO adjudicate?
– When asked to intervene by the referee (except for incidents of significant foul play where the TMO can ask the referee to stop the game)
– Referrals can now go back to the previous restart, i.e. penalty kick, free kick, lineout, scrum, kick-off
– If it is not clear, the TMO is to advise there is no clear evidence and the referee will need to make a decision
– TMO to advise on the type of infringement, the recommended sanction and where play is to restart
– TMOs can be advised on infringements by the team that scored or touched down, as well as if a try has been prevented from being scored
– If there is doubt as to whether the try would have been scored the TMO must then advise the appropriate sanction
– If foul play is referred, the TMO is to make recommendations as to the appropriate sanctions, as an assistant referee can currently do.
So the onus is still on the referee to consult the TMO, except for incidents of foul play where he can intervene. The point I have highlighted in bold has probably raised most eyebrows – it is not uncommon in the modern game for there to be as many as 15 or 20 phases of play. However, further to the various trials that have been taking place, the proposal in place to extend the TMO powers to a wider domestic and international arena from next season sensibly limits this to just two phases of play (as trialled in South Africa compared to the “previous restart” that has been trialled in the Aviva Premiership).
So, a good thing overall? On the one hand it would have probably made a difference in the Tuilagi try, should the referee have chosen to consult the TMO (remember, the TMO could not have “prompted” the referee). But then consider the Vunipola ruck infringement – it would have made no difference as the referee would have been powerless in the context of the remit of how he can use the TMO (no foul play and nothing in that instance was in the act of or resulted in the scoring of a try). So there is EVEN an argument to go a step further in making use of the TMO in more than just try-scoring situations.
In sport, there have always been mixed opinions over the merits of technology. In tennis and cricket (and now goal line technology in football), the introduction of “Hawkeye” technology is still controversial. Similarly, rugby must consider the balance between getting every decision correct and the spirit and flow of the game. Like it or loathe it, as the game becomes increasingly professional and as new technologies are developed the current experiment to extend TMO powers will be here to stay and, in all likelihood, will eventually expand further. Might we eventually see teams being given a set number of “appeals” to the referee, as we see in tennis? Might we have a TMO officiating the scrum in some capacity?
I have my own opinion and I quite like the fallibility and non-robotic nature of the referee or umpire in sport (indeed, I believe it is an inherent quality of “sport” itself). So spare a thought for the ref, he’s only human and we should love him for it… while we still can.
By Will Thomas