A trial of the TMO system this weekend will be welcomed by most rugby fans. Tier one games such as Ireland and Argentina in the Aviva stadium will see a change of emphasis in the relationship between the TMO and the referee.
This trial will give the referee and his/her team of assistants more responsibility when making decisions based on what they’ve seen. The Television Match Official will have less time to consult the referee and won’t have as much authority with the proposed changes.
Hopefully this will cause fewer disruptions and stop referees from sitting on the fence and going to the TMO too often. It can be refreshing to see a referee explain what they’ve seen and make the big calls instead of standing around discussing the possibilities for three or four minutes at a time, unless it’s a serious act of foul play or a very dangerous tackle.
I’m definitely in favour of having the TMO involved in the game. It reduces foul play and gives a fair decision on some of the moments that can turn a game. A few short breaks in play doesn’t cause much disruption.
If you look at Raheem Sterling’s timely trip the other night you’d be in no doubt that a TMO could rule out the penalty and wave play on within about 60 seconds. In tighter games that could have been a much bigger moment with far more controversy.
I don’t think anyone has an issue when tries haven’t been grounded properly and the TMO rules it out or when their team have been awarded a try by the TMO when the referee didn’t have the correct angle.
Recently we’ve seen a lot of replays of high shots that have resulted in different coloured cards. Some of those may seem a bit harsh especially when the tackle has been slowed down but if we want to protect the players there’s going to be a few teething problems and harsh calls. It has to be encouraged if we want to reduce rates of concussion and other injuries to the head and neck.
Owen Farrell's tackle has been the most recent controversial one. There have been enough opinions on it during the week but what I took from it is that Farrell got the basics of tackling wrong and put himself in danger of an injury. He put his head on the wrong side of the tackle by going across the body which could have resulted in him not remembering the end of the game at all!
Part of the game is lost when the TMO gets too involved
There’s been a lot of talk on social media about how much the All Blacks get away with during games and that referees give them the benefit of the doubt more often than not. That’s going to happen if referees are trying to encourage the attacking or more dominant team because the All Blacks are normally in the ascendancy but they can be cynical.
That’s the edge that they play on and I think it’s a massive strength of higher quality, ruthless teams. It’s something you’d see from the Kerry footballers going back over the years. They play a little bit rough and on the edge of what is legal.
Part of the game is lost when the TMO gets too involved. Don’t get me wrong, the TMO is making the game safer. If you know the referee has all the angles and the TMO can interfere, you’re not going to throw as many punches in the ruck or try to get away with acts of foul play. That’s the advantage of having the TMO sitting in front of the screens and mic’d up to the referee.
Colby Faingaa’s penalty just before Tom McCartney’s try last week shows the negative side of the TMO. Faingaa cleared Nick Cudd off the ball and drove him back in towards the ruck which stopped the Dragons defensive fold and McCartney drove over for a try.
In my view, Faingaa had to do a full job on Cudd. As an openside Cudd wasn’t going to just stop at the first sign of contact, he was looking to stop that attack by poaching at the ball. There have been many other examples of long rucking which can be a bit ridiculous but I was sitting in the same truck as Leo Colgan, Saturday evening’s TMO, and felt like telling him to leave it off!
It was a piece of intelligent attacking ruck play and what you’d expect from your back row. Possibly even naïve from the rest of the Dragons pack, who I felt were looking to the referee more than once to do the defending for them.
The subtleties of an openside flanker's game are being lost because of the fact that there are too many eyes on the game. I think that’s a massive part of rugby. Knowing the laws and bending them a little before the referee stamps it out.
The laws are written down but are left open to interpretation. How teams interpret them and try to manipulate them is a very interesting part of the game that is great to watch.
Looking at a good piece of counter attack, where the full back seems to have found a gap from nowhere, normally turns out to be one of the retreating attackers blocking a defender by changing his line of running.
You can spot it in some of the replays, a team-mate will make a signal to the full back to say ‘attack this channel and I’ll make sure there’s a gap’.
Another one you would often see is when a back three player seems to have caught a great ball in the air, only to look back at the replay and see other players ‘escorting’ the opposition chaser so he doesn’t get a proper challenge for the ball.
We’ve seen this from Conor Murray a number of times because it’s usually the scrum-half that has time to think about blocking the run. Professional teams and coaches practice these darker arts. It’s not something that happens by mistake.
A massive positive of rugby is that World Rugby are willing to trial changes of laws and directives to improve the sport. It may not always work out but at least it’s progressive and responsive to previous issues.
Putting the onus back on the referees this weekend is a positive step for the flow of the game and for the supporters' enjoyment.
Follow Ireland v Argentina via our liveblog on RTÉ.ie/sport and the News Now app, watch live on RTÉ2 and the RTÉ Player or listen to live commentary on RTÉ Radio 1 this Saturday (kick-off 6.30pm)