Time to push pause on TMOs

Mike Greenaway

Saturday’s showdown between the Sharks and Lions dragged on for almost 100 minutes. Spectators spent too much of the match gawking at the big screens as TMO Marius Jonker agonised over decisions referred to him by Jaco Peyper.

Those in attendance yearned for the days when one referee, warts and all, ran the game. Back then, players accepted that what they lost on the roundabouts, they would gain on the swings. Rugby officiating needs to do a 180.

The infernal TMO obstructions to the natural flow of the game are exacerbated by the other irritating time wasters that have crept in, such as the mini team-talks before a lineout, the excruciating setting and resetting of scrums, and water-carriers creeping on with instructions…

Sometimes, time-wasting piggybacks on the TMO timeouts for a double whammy — we are talking about the pantomime of a team trooping back to the halfway line while the TMO decides if a try has been scored. It is an ill-conceived ruse to influence the TMO because he has a range of camera angles to get his decision right. And if the try has not been scored, the players trudge back to the opposition 22.

In rugby’s days of yore, the players just got on with it, and just about their only respite was when they gathered behind the sticks to wait for the conversion attempt. The only time the stadium clock stopped during the match was for half-time, and the “injury time” added on at the end of the 80 minutes was at the discretion of the referee. Matches seldom went beyond 82 or 83 minutes.

While the matter of the players holding up play should be sorted out by the referees, the TMO issue needs to be tackled by the lawmakers who created the villain. Like Dr Frankenstein’s monster, the TMO embryo did not look too bad in the lab but once given power it morphed out of control.

Before the advent of the TMO system, but after the game turned professional, referees improved drastically from their amateur predecessors. But now we have four officials adjudicating a game and it is case of too many chefs spoiling the broth.

The man with the whistle is being emasculated by having a number of decisions taken away from him and given to the laptop jockeys. Referees worth their salt must be privately frustrated by this erosion of their authority. The good ones back themselves to get decisions right on the field and would prefer to embrace responsibility, not outsource it.

The introduction of technology was meant to improve the game but has it made the game more watchable? The TMOs were initially limited to judging whether or not a try had been scored. That was a good development and that is where it should have stayed. But more and more responsibility has been taken away from the on-field referee as the TMO system gets increasingly overused.

The lawmakers have made the game so complicated in their pursuit of getting matters spot-on that it can become a sanitised, stop-start affair. Last week’s match at Kings Park is a good example – the TMO interruptions gave the Sharks time to catch their breath after each long period of frantic defending, while the halts impeded the attacking momentum of the Lions. Any rugby player will tell you that defending takes more out of you than attacking.

The over-officiating of today is just about as bad for the game as the amateur era when one-eyed referees could influence the outcome. Back in the day, home town referees had the latitude to be biased because they were not answerable to the fine-tooth comb of technology.

The All Blacks swore that the major reason they did not win a series in South Africa prior to 1996 was because of the officials. In the 1976 series, Gert Bezuidenhout was on the receiving end of scorching criticism from the tourists because of “blatant cheating”. Ten years later, the New Zealand Cavaliers verged on violent protest at Ken Rowlands’ handling of the four-Test series — even though he was Welsh, the Kiwis believed he was in the Springboks’ pocket. There was the unforgettable sight of hooker Hika Reid bumping his shoulder into Rowlands after the final whistle of the Ellis Park Test, while giving him a mouthful of expletives.

And it was the other way around too. Another Welshman, Clive Norling, became a South African swearword in 1981 when, to Springbok supporters, he appeared to contrive a result in favour of the All Blacks in the series-decider at Eden Park.

That type of bias, perceived or actual, thankfully has been taken out of the game because the correct use of technology keeps the referees “honest”, as they say in New Zealand.

Rugby’s lawmakers need to put their pride in their pockets and the TMOs back in their boxes. Let one referee do his best, and if, in the course of a free-flowing game, he makes the odd mistake, so be it.

- Mike Greenaway

Let's chat

  • Wesley

    Nope. Wont work. Questioning the credibility of the ref will be the order of the day again. And “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. Just look at soccer and VAR coming in. If something is missed and not referred, everyone is up in arms. When they do refer, same result, just the other side. And damn the ref even if he refers but doesn’t dish out the desired sanction the opposition was hoping for. Trust humans to cry fowl when things don’t go exactly their way. Will never be resolved, but at least the video referrals is an attempt to get as close as we can.

  • Stephanus Bossert

    Dont agree. The TMO was implemented because spectators were able to pause, rewind and watch again to spot what the ref could not in real time. If the TMO is taken away the spectators will start blaming the refs again. We should accept the TMO as part of the game now and adapt our game plans to it.

    • Riaan Jacobs

      The spectators still blames the ref.

  • Jennifer

    Unfortunately of late it has not just been the odd mistake but a string of mistakes that change the whole course of the game. I say leave the TMO at least it keeps the referee slightly in check from totally thinking he has godlike powers. In fact I would like the TMO to have the power to tell the referee when he has missed something serious.

  • Leigh

    Article is backwards thinking

  • Pieter

    Give each team 5 white cards in which they can dispute whether a try was scored, or to check whether there was foul play, etc.

    • Jettero

      Like the referral system in cricket. Each team has a limited number of referrals to be used by the captain. Five per team is ten per game. That is another 30 minutes ate least. 1 minute to decide on the referral and 2 minutes for a decision.
      Refs need to control the game and like the professional players they must also be penalised for obvious/intentional mistakes.

    • Riaan Jacobs

      Agree. That is enough cards.

  • Greg Shark

    gavin you seem really pissed that the sharks undid the lions… you mentioned in a number of articles the lions being slowed down. replay the game and see who the culprits really were – the lions themselves, just maybe the tackle practice was slowly knocking the stuffing out of them?

    to the gist of the article – keep tmo, upskill refs to be more assertive, punish players who go down to relieve pressure, no tmo = more unchecked forward passes, try scoring balls knocked on over the line being scored, etc

    Imagine the bitching after games without tmo over biased refs, etc….aikona wena!

    • John Comyn

      It’s Greenaway Sharky. Incidently he resides in KZN and writes for your local media. Just saying!

      • Greg Shark

        his middle name is Gavin…

  • Sharky

    The only way you can get rid of the TMO is if you also get rid of HD TV and super slow-mo. Because if those two stay in place and the TMO is dropped the fans will riot with every questionable call.

    • John Comyn

      Apologies Sharky – my comment was aimed at Greg Shark. Mind you once you seen one shark supporter you seen them all :-)

      • Sharky

        No worries John. Heard that before – “you people all look alike”, eh?

    • John Comyn

      It’s Greenaway Sharky. Incidently he resides in KZN and writes for your local media. Just saying!

  • John Comyn

    I agree with Greenaway. I don’t mind a “try no try” being checked but when they go back 4 or 5 phases to look at a 50/50 call eg forward pass then it just gets ridiculous. It is so bad now that, as a supporter, you can’t celebrate until the kick off is in motion and the game restarts.

  • Wesley

    back to old grainy broadcasts from the 1940s then… Maybe the nostalgia will be so great for the old farts watching, they will talk of players with some respect instead of mudslinging them for no reason. “back in MY day…” “Yes grandpa, we know. HO de Villiers was the best. Now please eat your peas before you have a achy tummy again.”

  • Bertie Hechter

    Really – Making a game ten minutes longer to get a correct result? – I dont mind – I want to see a fair win and the players definitely don’t mind as well.

    1995 world cup – Ruben Kruger clearly scored a try with gave the Boks the win without having to play extra time -What if we lost the game in extra time?

  • Chris Mouton

    I honestly don’t mind the TMO if the outcome is fair. Yes, it breaks the momentum, but I’d rather have a fair outcome than an obvious mistake or foul play being missed. That’ll leave a much worse taste in my mouth. Rather adapt the rules and upskill the refs in order to evolve with the game.

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