The TMO – Fix it, or get rid of it


In the beginning of the year I wrote an article expressing my concern on the effect the extended power to the TMO will have in the game in this year’s competition – with some justification it now seems.

But it’s always easy to blame the ref isn’t it, especially when your team is at the receiving end – but what happens when different teams, and different individuals in different situations start expressing the same concerns?  Just keep quiet and accept the old line we have been given that ‘referees will always make mistakes’ or ‘referees only gets flack from losing teams’?  No my friends, time for keeping quiet or risk being called a bad loser has come and gone – the officiating in rugby has reached a crisis point and the governing bodies had better wake up and sort this out.

Just last week the Stormers received a fine of over R 200 000 for apparently using some choice words at a match official they felt made some poor calls.  Never condoning the abuse of match officials in fear of the game becoming like the circus we see in football, but lately the frustration born out of some really poor officiating is understandable.

This week All Blacks world cup winning coach, Graham Henry, also didn’t mince his words on the poor officiating in the game between the Crusaders and Blues over the weekend – a game which Ali Williams’ comments following the game on some decisions summed up the situation perfectly when he said “I cannot tell you what I feel or believe (regarding officiating) as we do not have the money to pay for a fine”.

I can highlight instances with the Bulls in Brisbane and Canberra where two decisions turned the game, ridiculous citings of Sharks players we all knew would never amount to anything and lack of citings where it was clear for everyone to see how certain players punch opponents.

The point with all of the above is that criticism is not only coming from the bad losers anymore, it is coming from all corners and it is coming more frequently.

My issues with the TMO as highlighted a couple of months ago was firstly that we do not have the technology for them to make correct decisions and secondly, the competency of the individuals or how they are limited in the context of the laws or protocols to make the correct decisions.

Focussing on the two most recent incidents between the Bulls and the Highlanders where the Bulls were awarded a try what looked like a clear forward pass or knock and the penalty try awarded to the Rebels in the final 10 minutes of their match reaffirms these problems.

In the Bulls game the pass in question happened close to their 22, the TMO ruled that the pass was not forward and the try stood.  The problem the TMO or the officials sit with is the camera angles available to them, and also the fact that millions of viewers see exactly what they see.  I read respected law-guru, Paul Dobson’s views on this and he is in agreement with the TMO but myself, the television commentators at the time and hundreds of people on social networks disagreed with him.

What does this become now?  A situation where the laws are under scrutiny or a situation where we have a difference in opinion of what we all saw?  I did not see the hands move backwards and believed it to have gone forward, as did many others, the TMO and Dobson saw it otherwise so do we now check who has the best eyesight or the higher definition television sets?  Whether Dobson and the TMO were right or others like myself is not actually even the point here, the fact that we disagree means there is an element of guessing involved by everyone and once we start guessing the whole point of the TMO is lost.

Even more perplexing was the official explanation of the Stormers penalty try incident.  SA Refs on their website justified the decision as ‘technically correct’ because the ‘TMO did not have the jurisdiction’ to make recommendations to the referee on the forward pass prior to the foul play incident because technically ‘a try was not scored’.  Are you shitting me?

Let’s apply some reverse logic here.  If the Rebels player was not held back (reason for foul play and penalty try) and he did out-sprint Habana to the line (which I seriously doubt in any event) and  legally scored the try, it would have been disallowed because the kick through from the Rebels player occurred after a clear knock on from another Rebels player.

Again, what is the bloody point of a TMO then?

If the TMO does not have the technology available to make decisions without guessing, or is paralysed by protocol in making the correct decision, let’s just remove him completely please because it serves no bloody purpose.

As for the precious match officials who feels offended by a couple of choice words leveled at them for poor decisions the solution is simple, improve your game, it’s your bloody job, or come join me for a couple of weekends down at the local pub for rugby games on a two-week conditioning program where I can guarantee you skin as thick as an elephant’s after hearing some real abuse.

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  1. “If the Rebels player was not held back (reason for foul play and penalty try) and he did out-sprint Habana to the line (which I seriously doubt in any event) and legally scored the try. ”

    Morne did the rebels player not reach the ball milli-seconds later then Habs ??? if so ,by being held back (and he was ), would that not have meant that he would have been there before Habs?

    I agree that the TMO’s have had a terrible weekend but this is nothing new … I think it has more to do with this nonsense of interpreting the laws!!! the laws are just that laws and they should apply them ..

    take for instance the yellow card against the cheethas for a deliberate “slapdown” and 40min later the opposing team does the same thing and the same ref does nothing and the opposing team scores a try …

    Also the one week we see a rule applied in one way then later in another ..

    Ie the bulls last game .. player is allowed to place the ball when tackled in previous games but the Bulls player gets penalized for doing just that .. ruled to be a second movement …(he moved his arm in placing the ball not his body )

    But perhaps last night’s Superrugby program with Balie swart said it all … on responding to a question from the presenter about scrum collapses when the ball is at the 8mans feet why some reffs let it go and play on and others call for a reset .. Balie Swart said the following : ” The better refs will play on because WE DECIDED that that is the best way ” while the rule says if the scrum collapses there should be a reset !!!

    I don’t want to debate that specific rule but rather the way they handle it .. surely if they want to change it do so and amend the rule…. but now they just decide to “INTERPRET” the rule as they see fit …

    This for me is the root cause of the issues we are having. The Reffs should stop changing the laws on their own and start refereeing the REAL RULES !!!

  2. There is a big difference between a “held back” or obstruction and a knock on though.

    The first is with intent, the latter not. The first is a deliberate corruption of the spirit of the game, the latter is an inadvertent handling mistake.

    Often, a knock on has no effect on the run of the play, rather than nit pick over it, we should cheer whenever a team or a player gets penalized for a hold back or obstruction.

  3. Agree with most of the article… however we could see the ‘hold-back’ as clear as day from the stands 50m away… whether I’d have given a penalty try is another thing… but Phipps is super quick…

  4. A question I want answered is… do the TMO’s have ‘extra’ footage and angles that we do not get shown on tv?

  5. Morne, I hear your complaint, but let’s be honest, if the TMO is allowed to judge on more than two rucks or setpieces before the try was scored, we’d spend rediculous amounts of time viewing footage of supposed forward passes etc. I like the way they do it now, but I do think the current TMO’s are just not good enough. The rebels penalty try is fine by me, as the TMO could not have judged the move where the knock on happened. That is clear and no grey areas there, the Bulls try however, that was streaky.

  6. Reply to Morné @ 2:12 pm:

    Then there have been some dodgy calls this season…

    Reply to Morné @ 2:36 pm:

    Looked to me the Rebels player smashed the Stormer players arm (who then knocked it back)… from that point it became a ‘could-he-have-would-have-‘ beaten the rest to the ball…

  7. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 3:11 pm:

    The fact that SA Refs specifically mentioned that the TMO was not sanctioned to rule on (possible) knock does however suggest even they believe it could have been the call.

    But that forgotten, this is not about specific issues but the problem in general we are having this year with some really bad calls.

  8. Yes the TMO officials will get better as time goes on.

    We need to ask if its the type of thing your really miss once its gone?

    I have seen so many tries scored where a TMO would have ruled against it and it gives me comfort knowing there are other eyes seeing other things – and are being allowed to rule on it.

    It will get better

  9. Why are TMO’s generally referees not good enough to be on the field of play? This is just as high a profile job as the actual referee, and these guys should be the best at what they do. I have also seen footage of one of the TMO’s (can’t remember who or where it was) squinting at a small screen inf ront of him trying to make out what happened.

    Why can’t these guys have proper bigger screens to view the footage on?

  10. Problem is that the role of TMO seems to be reserved for the sub-standard refs (or those in training or “rehabilitation”) – better ones are trusted to handle the game on the field. It is clear from the communications that some TMO are too scared / uncertain to do the job properly.
    I agree this “interpretation” shit should stop – and send captains of teams that just do not stop infringements off (e.g. Oz and NZ teams just keeping infringing at mauls and scrums after plenty warnings – knowing that some refs are just too scared to cause a fuzz…)

  11. Yes Morne you make a good point, however it is the outspoken coaches who could be in hotwater rather than the TMO’s. Graham Henry’s outburst at the Blues practice yesterday did not go down well in NZ yesterday. Only those from Auckland agreed with Sir Henry that Retallick did not deserve a yellow card for his deliberate knock down and how he saw Halai dot down his try when held up over the line, nobody knows. Most were elated that the Blues were schooled by the Crusaders in how to play hard test type rugby and win.

    Using the word’s “bullshit” and “ludicrous” and questioning whether TMO Keith Brown was “blind” is surely going to land the former All Blacks coach in the hot water he deserves.

    As for Ali Williams, he should focus more on his game and less on chirping the ref. It will not be lost on Plumtree and Drotske that this Blues side has shown a weak setpiece performance against the Highlanders and spent the last 20 mins going backwards in the scrums in their 23-3 loss in Christchurch when the Crusaders forwards were all over them. They are ripe for the picking in the African Safari ande the Sharks and Cheetahs must be licking their lips :pot:

  12. Reply to Bekke @ 5:47 pm:

    Problem is that the role of TMO seems to be reserved for the sub-standard refs (or those in training or “rehabilitation”)”

    It certainly does appear to be so (particularly in RSA)… but even so you’d think they’d do a better job than us mug-punters from home…

    I’d like to see the brief these TMO’s have been given this year… as for all the bad decisions it has looked to us punters… there has at least been a bit of consistency in some of the decisions…

    I give the multitude of tries not awarded by TMO when players have been tackled just millimetres short of the line and appeared to ‘roll’ the ball over. In many of the cases I would have awarded the try… but they’ve consistently denied them all…

  13. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 3:40 am: So if the TMO advises “it was inconclusive whether he touched the ball down for a try” as Brown told the ref after Halai had been held up BUT THEN goes on to advise the ref to award the try you would be happy? Not sure if that is correct and it would certainly make the TMO look the fool Henry is attempting to make Keith Brown appear. Lyndon Bray has already judged that Keith Brown was correct in both the yellow card and and no try rulings. Sir Henry is probably being told right now to take off his blue-tinted glasses right now and to be less subjective in his comments about the officials. He is earning a bucketload of $’s from both the Blues and the Argentinians where he also serves as technical adviser so it is obvious whose tune he is going to dance to.

  14. Reply to out wide @ 4:03 am:

    I’ve always thought the process should be as such… blow whistle, check with assistant ref (who should be stepping up their calls)… if not conclusive ask TMO to check and answer ref’s question.

  15. I agree with Morne, this is not towards a specific game or incident but the overall use and not use of the TMO.

    We can spend 30 min per game resetting scrums but they bitch they reason not to use the TMO more is because of time. Well I believe the correct TMO decision is adding to the game and the time spend on it will not upset supporters or viewers. I believe it more to do with time for the game on TV.

    I would also rather see the TMO taken away completely rather than to have a half blooded system in place that leave supporters from both side frustrated with the game.

    I must be honest, I am watching less and less rugby these day because of these blatant mistakes from officials which turns games around. My Saturdays on the river fishing Tiger is much more relaxing and I can enjoy it with my whole family. I do not swear, do not get upset and spend more time with my kids.

    Rugby is going in many ways down the wrong road and it is loosing it’s appeal, and I was one of those guys who did not missed any rugga game on Tely.

  16. Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 5:06 am: OK, I can see that my line of reasoning may have been a bit hazy. I was referring to your complaint that TMO’s seem reluctant to award tries when there is doubt as to whether the try was legally scored or not. If it is your team that may have scored the disallowed try, of course you are going to yell at the TMO whether you are the coach or an armchair supporter but the TMO has to be subjective and look at the facts. If he rules that it is inconclusive whether the try was scored as the TMO, Keith Brown was heard to say to Glen Jackson, the ref in the Blues v Crusaders game referred to above, then surely it is NO TRY. It would be ludicrous for the TMO to rule it was inconclusive whether the try was scored but then to advise the ref to award the try anyway as Graham Henry seems to demand.

  17. They need to work out a protocol where the on-field referee always makes a call or at least clearly states what he saw. The purpose of the TMO then, is mostly to check if he was correct.

    Whenever the TV evidence is inconclusive, the referee’s call stands. For this to work the referee needs to not just ask the TMO to check a pass or a grounding. He needs be clear about what he saw before hand so that the TMO and fans will all know what the outcome will be, unless the TV evidence is clear and conclusive that it should be different.

  18. Reply to out wide @ 1:00 pm:

    I would be pissed off, if I was the Blues too.

    Two weeks ago Ali Williams and co. where allowed to go up the “middle” of the maul all they want. There where similarly very liberal interpretations of defending the maul in games involving the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Chiefs. Tackling the ball carrier was the norm, but all of a sudden, when it involved the Crusaders the “middle” became round the side and tackling the ball carrier became illegal.

    What is this? Are the Crusaders the All Blacks of New Zealand?

  19. Reply to Bekke @ 5:47 pm: Actually TMO’s are refs who are for whatever reason not able to make field fitness levels and not because they’re not good enough. Johan Meeuwissen for instance is just too old to be on a field (refs are the fittest players on the park) but there is nothing wrong with him as a referee.

  20. Reply to Timeo @ 1:58 pm:

    Correct. Theoretically the role of the TMO is to eliminate bad decisions made or decisions made in error by the ref – not to make decisions for them.

    Refs must make decisions, and TMO can only overturn such a decisions when there was a clear instance of an indiscretion.

    What must quickly disappear from the game too is players insisting refs go to TMO’s. Only the ref and the AR’s should ever make that call.

  21. Reply to out wide @ 1:00 pm:

    I’m with you on that… I wasn’t referring to the Keith Brown incident as such… but the three (Hugh Pyle, Bekker and I forget the other) previous weeks where all three were just tackled short of the line and rolled the ball onto it… whilst I would have awarded those tries… the TMO didn’t (hence the consistency quip)…

  22. Reply to Morné @ 7:35 pm:

    Thing is… I was in the stadium and the entire replay ‘WAS’ played…

    Either way the Rebels pack was dominating the much-vaunted Stormers all over the paddock and their newbie backline more than matching the Bok backs…