Video killing the Rugby star?


Rugby just would not be rugby if we went into a new year without some law changes or amendments, and the boys at the IRB and SANZAR did not disappoint.

Yesterday I read about the law changes for the Super Rugby competition of 2013 – nothing earth shattering but there were some interesting changes.

For those who watched the New Zealand ITM Cup last year two of the law experiments they used will come into play in Super Rugby.  The first one is the 5-second ruck law which basically states that if a ball becomes available at a ruck for a team they will be given 5 seconds by the referee to play it.  Failing this, the opposition will get a scrum.

The second law amendment has to do with the scrum where the engage call changes from; ‘Crouch, touch, pause – engage’ to a three-worded ‘Crouch, touch – set’.

There was also some changes to the quick throw-in law at line-outs which in my opinion is really irrelevant but all things considered, the above changes seems to be a positive move in the right direction.

The other, more contentious law amendment is the extended powers that will be given to the television match official, or the TMO.

Currently the TMO can only make calls for events or situations that happens in the in-goal area, or in the act of scoring a try.  These powers had a limited influence on the game and with video technology always improving and angles upon angles being replayed to the television audience, referees became more exposed for either bad decisions, or things they could not see.

There was an outcry that the IRB should allow the television match official extended powers because as was said and written, if we have the technology, why not use it?

Last year some amendments were tried in competitions like the Currie Cup where the TMO could be called upon to look at possible dirty or foul play and identify culprits, and also to go back a couple of phases when a try was scored to see if a forward pass or any other transgression might have been missed by the referee.

In principle it all seems a good idea, but there are some folks out there (like me) that are not too keen on the idea of giving TMO’s more power, especially since they still could not get their calls right in a limited capacity 100% of the time.

I mention 100% for a very specific reason, because this is after-all the intention of using technology and some guy sitting in a box looking at replay after replay isn’t it, to eliminate human error in decision making from the guy on the park, or have I got this wrong?

To digress for a moment, I heard an interesting comment made during the recent cricket test against the Kiwi’s where the subject of DRS (decision review system) or cricket’s version of the TMO came up.  If you follow cricket you will know that India seems dead-against this system or one specific area of it where a LBW decision is reviewed and technology is brought in to ‘predict’ the path of the ball after it struck the batsmen.

Their argument, which is a fair one in my opinion, is if a system which everyone admits is not 100% accurate in predicting a likely outcome, why use it at all?

The commentator made two very important points which is something I believe we all forget at times.  Firstly, the use of technology in sport was developed for broadcasting purposes to add an extra dimension for viewers, not as a tool for officials to assist them in making decisions.  Secondly, although the technology has been refined to assist in this aspect of sport, its purpose was never to remove decision-making powers from match officials on the field of play, but only to help eliminate the bad decisions.

Considering the above I have a few reservations about giving TMO’s extended powers.  Top of my list is the actual technology available to TMO’s and their own competence.  In the years we had the limited TMO powers in play we still saw a number of strange, if not outright ridiculous decisions made by these officials.  Part of it I put on the competence of the folks in the box which we can control, but another part of it is the actual technology which is not at a level to make 100% correct decisions all the time.  It got to a stage where if the on-field referee referred a decision, the guy upstairs seemed to think he had to make a decision even though most of it was based on guesswork.

Following on to the above we also started seeing on-field officials cop out of making decisions way too easily and refer just about everything, knowing that if they do accountability for their decisions are removed, and by removing accountability away from individuals you remove responsibility and any accurate way to measure competence.

All of this does not even touch on the frustration factor when television officials are called into play.  While we get slightly irritated sitting on our couch after 50 replays at least we have audio from referees and commentators who are in touch with producers to keep us in the loop of the progress of the decision, but consider the poor souls sitting in the stands not even knowing what exactly has been referred and having to sit for 5 minutes or longer while producers and officials fall over themselves to get the right footage and all the right angles.

With the extended powers now given to TMO’s these problems are amplified ten-fold, because unless broadcasters puts up cameras along the length of the field one meter apart there is simply no way a forward pass, or off-side lines can be judged 100% accurately which means more guesswork from TMO’s trying to interpret whether the actions of a player was one of someone passing backwards looking at his hands…  This does not even take into account the time it will take for producers to find specific instances in play (two phases back for tries scored or anywhere on the field for foul play) which the referee first has to communicate to the TMO who only then speaks to the producer.

The solution the commentators suggested for cricket was that technology, or the television match official, should only be used when you can have a 100% accurate decision made or when you can overturn or correct a blatantly bad decision by the on-field umpire – none of this prediction or guessing stuff.  A principle rugby’s brains-trust would do well if they followed suit.

Rugby is of course a hell of a lot more dynamic than cricket which makes the accurate use of technology or TMO’s even more challenging, and I am not for one second suggesting we do not use technology to improve the game, but if we are going to continue to guess and accept human error as part and parcel of the game, I’d rather have the guy with the whistle in his mouth make those mistakes than wait 5 minutes for a guy sitting in a box to do the same.

Facebook Comments


  1. I agree with some of the points you make, Morne, but just to add, I think the biggest bone of contention and where a lot of the unhappiness stems from, is that viewers at home (and those in the stadium where a big screen is present) can clearly see a mistake but it was missed by the on-field referee. Should we juts accept this as part of the game and let it go? Worst is when a try is awarded and the replay shows a blatant forward pass or interference with the defending players. Everyone knows it should have not been a try and worse, when the replays are shown on the screen at the stadium, even the referee becomes aware of the error, but everyone must act like nothing happened. That is also not the way to go, methinks.

  2. Reply to Craven @ 11:42 am:

    You will note that I do not offer a solution, as I do not have one specifically that won’t be over 1000 words in an article.

    I am not against technology, but it defies the purpose if the guy upstairs are guessing as much as the guy downstairs, or heaven forbid, interpret a decision.

    Here is a piece written a year ago by someone at SuperSport who has extensive, first-hand knowledge in broadcasting and its limitations.

    He posted the link to me after I wrote this.

    The problem we have as you state above is that what seems like a ‘blatant’ forward pass to you and me is not one according to the laws. Worst of all, the guy making the decision cannot accurately decide either (because of the limitations of technology and camera angles).

    More to the point, if technology is to be used to stamp out blatantly bad decisions in rugby, we are getting it wrong with the current extension of powers to the TMO as touched on above in the post.

    Like most things I like to take a logical, and the most simplest approach as the base and work from there.

    For me that is identifying what areas technology and the TMO can get 100% correct without having to guess, and work the laws or his powers in the game around that.

  3. Their argument, which is a fair one in my opinion, is if a system which everyone admits is not 100% accurate in predicting a likely outcome, why use it at all? So no umpires then if that logic applies.
    India might not be happy in that this might reduce mathc fixing.

    the 5 second rule is a good one and saw it applied in some games I watched.

  4. Reply to Mug Punters Organisation of South Africa @ 5:14 am:

    How exactly does that prevent match-fixing? Are folks deliberately trying to get out LBW?

    I also tend to take what players say more serious than others. The commentator mentioned in this post was a NZ fast bowler in his day. He said that he got some shockers not going his way and then he got some lucky ones that did. For him (and many) it was part of the game and sometimes it happens.

    Point remains, if it remains a guessing game either by the dude in the middle or the one upstairs, what’s the point?

  5. Reply to Morné @ 8:02 am:

    “Point remains, if it remains a guessing game either by the dude in the middle or the one upstairs, what’s the point?”

    With that I agree 100%, no problem.

    As per my previous post, the big push towards using technology is due to the fact that blatant mistakes that even novices can pick up, can be seen clearly and this reflects badly on the referees and rugby in itself.

    I agree that we must not replace one guessing individual with another, but where a referee is unsighted and the assistent referees are also unclear, having a different viewpoint might be good?

    This brings me to another bugbear of mine, assistent referees, how these can miss trangressions happening right in front of them always surprises me. Are they limited in what they can get involved in (serious question)?

  6. Reply to Craven @ 10:55 am:

    All good points and I agree. If we can use technology effectively then I am 100% for it, as the post says, to eliminate bad decisions (unseen or otherwise) by refs on the park.

    How about a review system by players in certain zones or for foul play (like in cricket)?

    This could be limited to the same principle as they are currently trying, being players can appeal either for or against a try in the last two phases leading up to it. If your appeal is overturned, you lose it.

    In addition to the tries, players can ask to review foul play – same story.

    This means the ref makes a decision, and if players want to appeal that they can but lose it if it is overturned limited to 2 or 3 appeals a half or match.

    The ref can at anytime consult his TMO for assistance without an appeal too just like in cricket.

    In this instance, refs and players take responsibility and technology is there if needed.

    Perhaps that’s a better approach?

  7. Reply to Morné @ 11:31 am:

    appeal system sounds like a time-out system in other sports – no thanks!
    Get on with the game – ref will make mistakes, live with it!

    Try scoring: Ok I can live with the ref double checking if all was ok, grounding or foot in touch. Forward pass is a grey area – we will NOT start this discussion again!!

    Foul play: ref should use this to clear things up who was involved, who started it and who retaliated and both get punished!

    No apeals allowed – that will cause too many breaks in play.

  8. Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 11:56 am:

    No different from breaks in play at the moment. And if you use your two chances, you don’t get any. Player (captain) can only appeal when there is a break in play, and only in certain instances. They trailed this in Varsity Cup once, the problem there was, captains asked to check something that happened 5 minutes back and could ask to check for everything, including ruck infringements which is stupid.

    They should only be allowed to ask for specific things, of which ruck and scrum infringements should never be one.

  9. Reply to Morné @ 12:25 pm:

    the new laws are trying to speed up the game for example the 90 secound conversion law – the kicker has to take the conversion within 90 secounds of the try being scored.

    Now you want to add time spent on checking stuff via TMO? What captain won’t try his luck and ask to check for a forward pass etc. after a try or penalty.

    IMO keep the TMO to check on grounding or touch at try scoring, expand for foul play but that is enough IMO.

  10. Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 2:13 pm:

    No, you are getting it all wrong.

    It must encourage ref’s to make on-field calls without so many bloody referrals as we have currently, players can appeal such calls but gets limited number.

    Remember, the current TMO extension already makes provision for refs to ask TMO 2 phases back when tries are scored and for foul play. I want to avoid situations where refs refer everything (apart from what they already refer under the old TMO laws).

    So I am saying, sure – add fwd passes and offsides in process of tries being scored up to two phases prior, but don’t force refs to refer them, have them make the calls on the field and if a captain disagrees he can ask for a referral but loses it if its overturned.

  11. Reply to Morné @ 2:20 pm:

    “current TMO extension already makes provision for refs to ask TMO 2 phases back when tries are scored and for foul play.”

    This is going too far IMO already!! Why do you want even more potential prolonged breaks in play?!

    Let’s get back to ONLY: Touchline and Grounding in the act of scoring a try. & Maybe when there is a big punch-up the ref can ask for assistance. That should be it!

  12. I’d prefer it if the referee always makes a call on the field and the TMO system is used to check it. The TMO may only over-turn the referee when there is clear evidence. When in doubt, the referee’s on-field call stands.

    That is what they do in the NFL. They have also defined certain things as “judgement calls” and not reviewable. Touch-downs may be automatically reviewed and the number of challenges per team are limited.

  13. Reply to Morné @ 2:48 pm:

    When it comes to points scored, the referee should always make a call and the TMO should always do a review. It does not have to take long.
    For normal play, I think we need more officials on the field with specifically defined assignments. The TMO may be part of this.

    Opportunities for appeals from the teams should be limited and well regulated, with defined events and circumstances that may or may not be appealed.

  14. 90 sec for a place kick is still way
    too much – all this staring at the
    posts, praying, having a slumber,
    going into a trance, whatever.

    Naas Botha took 30 seconds. Maybe
    a few less.


  15. Reply to Morné @ 11:31 am:

    Sounds good, I like the idea of a review system for certain specified incidents. I would rather wait a minute or two and have the correct decision than have no stoppages with blatant errors slipping through.

  16. Reply to Craven @ 12:50 pm:

    problem is not the blatant errors IMO – for example the Toulouse v Leicester game on Sunday – massive game for both clubs. Toulouse all over Tigers and are held up over the line, ref calls a scrum and the front row goes down – no way to see who is responsible but ref penalizes the attacking team – a f§$%&ing joke! But those call can’t be reviewed!
    IRB needs to sort this shit out!

  17. Reply to Morné @ 5:23 pm:

    In the old days the kicker had to wait for
    the little chap running up with the sand,
    then making a little heap.
    Nowadays all this is done automatically –
    and Naas still used half the time.
    90 sec is way too long.

  18. Ja there were two schools in the old days.

    The klein seuntjie with the bucket or the Naas Botha model which was to use the heel of his togs to dig a divot in the sand and place the ball in that.

    In the beginning of his career Andre Pretorius would also use sand only and then throw a line of sand in the direction of the poles to help him aim.

  19. Reply to DavidS @ 10:41 am:

    I saw something on TV last night – that kick Sias missed last year right in front of the posts against the Highlanders (I believe).

    He also has/had this tee with an extension, sort of a direction marker… fat lot of good that did him.