Changes Ahead For Super Rugby TMO and Judiciary

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WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 25: Referee Brendon Pickerill and assistant referee Kane McBride watch the big screen while waiting for a TMO decision during the round five Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Kings at Westpac Stadium on March 25, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images)

New players, coaches, and tactics won’t be the only changes when Super Rugby kicks off this week, there’ll be a new way of operation for match officials with changes to the Super Rugby TMO protocol in effect as well.

Since the introduction of the Television Match Official (TMO) the words “Try or no try?” and “Is there any reason not to award the try?” have become familiar parts of the game, but a direct opinion from the referee as to whether a try has been scored or not has been absent. That changes in 2017.

Now the referee will give their view whether a try has been scored as part of the referral process to the TMO – similar to that used by referees in Australia’s National Rugby League competition – with the TMO then reviewing based on the referee’s assessment. The referee’s decision will only be overturned if there is definitive evidence against it.

Faster, More Accurate, Super Rugby TMO Decisions

Technology has come a long way since the TMO’s introduction and along with more TV cameras at games means that there are more angles, and in increasingly higher definition for match officials to work with if needed.  In turn that means that reviews are often more accurate than in the protocol’s early days.

The fact that for most part, the TMO has been the arbiter has long been a drawback of the existing system. It has blurred the lines of who is ultimately responsible for the match between them and the referee, and because fans at the ground itself don’t hear the discussions between the referee and TMO (compared to those watching on TV), they are often left in the dark as to why a decision has been reached.

Addressing these issues as much as possible seems to have been the goal, with SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos stating;

“SANZAAR is confident this will enhance the fan’s match experience. This also aligns our sport’s process with that of almost all the other high performance sports, which use a television replay protocol.”

“In summary, this protocol change makes the process clean and efficient and places accountability for an “on-field call” in the hands of the referee and a review of that decision in the hands of the TMO.”

The rest of the protocol, such as the ‘two-phase’ rule that limits how far back in-play a review can go, remains in place.

Ultimately, anything that puts more of the responsibility and control back into the hands of the on-field referee is a good thing. The TMO protocol exists to ensure correct outcomes are reached, but the roles had become confusing for the average fan and experienced officials alike. The ability to use in-stadium big screens has been a step in the right direction towards redressing that, and these changes firmly put the referee back in charge of the process.

Judiciary Process Overhauled

SANZAAR has also made changes to its judicial system, with the main feature a formation of a Foul Play Review Committee. The committee, which comprises senior judicial officer Nigel Hampton QC and former internationals John Langford and Stefan Terblanche, will review all red cards, Citing Commission referrals and other misconduct in an effort to improve the consistency of the process.

If it is deemed that further sanction is warranted, then this committee will issue a decision that the player can accept – including issuing a warning – or choose to have heard at a formal hearing.

Other changes include the ability to exclude a team’s bye rounds in any sanction for a player, eliminating the often dubious line that a player was likely to play in local club game in that week trotted out by some teams, and for a matter to be referred back to a Citing Commissioner if new evidence comes to light outside the existing allowable timeframes.

As with the Super Rugby TMO changes these are commonsense developments, greatly helped by World Rugby allowing SANZAAR to tailor its judicial process to its own requirements. In particular the improved consistency of having the same three people oversee all potential judicial matters will only be good for the integrity of the competition.

“Main Photo Credit”

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