The Aviva Premiership and the International Rugby Board (IRB) have agreed to conduct an experiment with regard to the Television Match Officials this season.
The crux of the new rule is to enhance the role of the TMO from a purely confirming official (whether a try has been scored) to the same significance as an assistant running the line.
The trial allows the TMO to look at any of the phases of play that led to the scoring of a try – they can look at footage from the last stoppage (penalty kick, free kick, line out, scrum or a kick-off) to the try before deciding whether to award it or not.
Phil Winstanley, the Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, believes that the Aviva Premiership has ‘a reputation for innovation and this is another example of how both Premiership Rugby and RFU is at the forefront of the game’s development.’
Winstanley believes the TMO rule change, which will be implemented for the live televised matches, is for the betterment of the game and where they hope the ‘match officials are given the utmost support in getting crucial decisions right.’
The TMO’s role has been further enhanced as they can now intervene, when asked by the referee, in a series of situations. These include: where the referee believes that foul play has occurred anywhere on the field, where an infringement has occurred by the team that scored a try, where a try was believed to have been prevented by an infringement by an opposing player and whether a kick at goal was successful or not.
The TMO can also determine whether a knock-on has occurred, a forward pass played, a player in touch, an off-side, an obstruction, when a player is tackled without the ball and the double movement of the ball in the act of scoring a try.
Moreover, the TMO can now intervene when foul play has occurred anywhere on the field or in the in-goal area, which would warrant a yellow or red card given to a designated player which the referee may have missed.
The cynics argue that it will turn the game from a dynamic sport played at a high tempo into a slow, stop-start game where the referee and his assistants become the most influential figures on the pitch – not the players. This is something that Winstanley is keen to address, stating that, ‘we are extremely mindful about ensuring that we achieve a balance between protecting the integrity of the game and impacting the dynamic nature of our sport by creating too many stoppages in play.”
The RFU Head of Professional Referee Development Ed Morrison, believes the change will allow officials to be, ‘equipped with the best tools to ensure sometimes critical incidents are observed and acted upon.’ He continues that being able to ‘draw on the TMO in such circumstances will help us maintain the high standards of officiating that we have in the Aviva Premiership.’
Conor O’Shea, the Director of Rugby at Harlequins, believes that this change is a ‘massive step forward in the right direction.’ But he continued to argue like many others that it should not be to the detriment of the sport and affect the dynamic attributes of rugby that we all watch and enjoy.
What do you think? Will these changes slow the game down too much, or is it more important to get every decision correct?