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The troublesome TMO
Richard Seeckts
January 21, 2014
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This season's dramatically increased use of the TMO has, understandably, ruffled many feathers in the stands. As Brian Moore writes in The Daily Telegraph, spectators are infuriated by the time taken for TMO referred decisions in what he calls a "bore-fest". It takes the tension out of the atmosphere and often destroys the euphoric moment of scoring when, in many cases, the score or events leading up to it will be analysed at length by the TMO. A player touching down over the try line is becoming little more than a basis for negotiation.

You know it is bad when the arch-critic of wrong decisions by referees wants the on-field man to resume control of many of the decisions currently delegated to the man in the TV truck.

Like it or not, the toothpaste of technology can not be put back in its tube. Part of the irresistible advance of professional sport is that as the stakes and rewards rise, correct decisions by officials become ever more important. If the use of a TMO, no matter how infuriating, improves the percentage of correct decisions made, there will be no turning back.

Poor decisions, once laughed off over a post-match ale, can now cost a fortune. Club finances and sponsorships can be wrecked by the consequences of poor decisions. Players' and coaches' jobs are at stake. Threat of relegation, play-off places, World Cups all demand the best available tools to get the right decision are used. The score to determine which of England, Wales and Australia fail to make the quarter-finals of next year's World Cup should not be decided by a referee who makes a guess because he doesn't want to make the crowd wait a minute.

Moore correctly notes, "increased use of the TMO and the time taken is now seriously annoying the majority of rugby spectators." It's not hard to guess what another old hooker, Richard Cockerill, might make of that. Last March, when scrummaging reached rock bottom, Cockerill said he wouldn't mind the clock being stopped while scrums were being reset. He went on: "For me, every sport is for the participants first and foremost, and if you want entertainment then go to the theatre. I played rugby because I enjoyed playing rugby, not because I wanted to entertain the person stood on the touchline."

However out of step Cockerill's view of entertainment may be, it highlights the mindset of those actively involved in the game. Winning is everything in professional sport, and to lose to poor decision making by adjudicators is unacceptable if technology is available and not used.

That TMO's themselves make mistakes that all the world can see is a separate issue, one of competence and training. There will never be refereeing perfection, but the emotion stirred by decisions is an integral part of watching sport. What would memories of the 2007 World Cup final be without the Cueto 'try'.

Moore concludes his piece in The Daily Telegraph: "Ultimately, you must accept that mistakes, even bad ones, will be made, as they presently are with the new protocol." He is right, but years of watching him play and listen to his ref-bashing tirades in BBC commentary suggest that even he, as an impartial observer, occasionally struggles to accept mistakes.

Players and coaches make many more mistakes than referees, yet spectators leaving a match and media men are more inclined to make a meal of the officials' errors in the final reckoning. This in a sport where players are coached to test the referee's tolerance, to cheat in all but name. With everyone concerned on their case, is it any wonder that the men with the whistle seek reassurance from a colleague with a replay screen?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
WRITER BIO

Richard Seeckts' rugby career consisted of one school match where he froze on the wing and despite no substitutes being available he was withdrawn from the game at half-time for mocking the opposition's line-out calls. Thereafter Richard and the sport agreed active participation was not the way ahead, but that has not prevented him from avidly writing about and watching the game. He now contributes his random observations to the Crooked Feed blog on ESPNscrum.com