Television Replays in Rugby

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Referee Jaco Peyper of South Africa looks at the big screen as he waits for confirmation from the television match official during the 2015 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between England and Fiji at Twickenham Stadium on September 18, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Jan Hendrik Kruger/Getty Images)

The inconsistent use of television replays in rugby could became an embarrassment to the game and requires a firm hand of guidance from rugby authorities world-wide to ensure that this does not happen.

Television Replays in Rugby

Polling people on social media recently, it became clear that there are two distinct areas of frustration for rugby fans. The use of in stadium replays by “home” television producers and the strange interpretation by Television Match Officials (TMO) of what is in front of them. We also need to be careful on not making the interpretation and application of the laws a democratic process.

Last Word On Rugby takes a look of a few examples of the two different, yet important situations:

Stadium Replays

The classic example of this was the 2014 Rugby Championship matchup between the Springboks and the All Blacks in Johannesburg. Liam Messam hit Schalk Burger with a high shot, but this was not picked up by referee Wayne Barnes. During the next break in play, the footage of the high tackle was played over and over again on televisions around the world, and more importantly in the stadium. The indignant howls from spectators were too much to ignore and the tackle was reviewed.

Pat Lambie converted the ensuing penalty, handing the Springboks the lead and the win. Springbok fans will claim justice. All Black fans will claim foul play–due to a direct consequence of repeated replays in the stadium influencing a decision (right or wrong).

A second example of this was the Rugby World Cup game between hosts England and Fiji. Niko Matawalu looked to have scored a certain try for Fiji and was awarded as such by referee Jaco Peyper (pictured). In stadium replays showed that he had not grounded the ball and the home crowd started to voice their displeasure. The resultant review forced the TMO to disallow the try. England fans will say the right decision was arrived at, Fijians will question the undue influence of the television producer.

Strange Interpretations of Fact

A very recent example of this was during the Bledisloe Cup match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies. Henry Speight sprinted over for a try. Before the conversion could be taken, TMO Shaun Veldsman intervened. His claim was that Dane Haylett-Petty had run an obstructive line and had blocked Julian Savea from making a tackle on Speight. The replays did show Haylett-Petty and Savea sharing hand slaps and shoulder bumps and this was used as a reason to disallow the try. The fact that Speight was ahead of this altercation and meters short of the try line with a clear run in did not matter to Veldsman and referee Nigel Owens. The technicality appeared to be more important than the reality and the altercation did not appear to have a direct influence over whether a try would be scored or not.

The ultimate strange interpretation of fact must be the incident that became known as rugby’s first ‘own try’. The TMO appeared to be so focussed on getting all the technicalities of the job 100% correct, that the colour of the jersey was only a minor detail. The result? A defender dotting the ball down in his own in-goal area was interpreted as a fair try by the attacking team…

For an in depth look at how complex and officious a TMO can be, we just need to take a look at this under 21 game in South Africa between Western Province and the Golden Lions. According to the strict letter of the law; the correct decision was taken, when TMO Johan Greeff could eventually justify why he arrived at this decision. Was the correct rugby decision arrived at? Considering the relative severity of the push in the face, compared to a few wandering fingers across the face? Debatable at best.

What to Do?

Don’t Involve the Public in Decision Making

Of course, there are no easy answers as the issue is a complex one. For one though, television producers should not be feeding contentious footage for live-viewing in the stadium. If something untoward is detected, it should rather be fed back to the TMO for decision and rather, leave it up to the TMO to interpret what his is seeing. This does not address the possibility that only one home town decisions are fed back to the TMO’s box, but the game should not be turned into a reality TV series either. It is not up to the spectators or viewers to vote about issues with their raised voices.

Keep it Relevant

In terms of keeping the TMO relevant, the TMO function needs to ensure its own credibility and not distance people from understanding firstly decision making and secondly not regarding some decision making as petty. For many people, in the early days the call from the TMO of “Please Check”. Check lead to thoughts of “What is this all about?”. Hearing that now might not be such an exciting prospect

All rugby fans obviously want the right decision to be arrived at. The danger is in getting the balance right between overly officious interpretation of the laws, and ensuring that the interpretation and application of the laws is not democratized.

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