Make reffing a team game

Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Nope, I am not even close to being over the Romain Poite shocker last weekend!

The Springboks v All Blacks is the pinnacle of rugby viewing, the heart and soul of this great sport. And how this plonker was allowed to come along and rob us of a game as anticipated as any Lions Test or Rugby World Cup final, is beyond me.

How he could not use the TMO in such a crucial decision, in such a crucial match, is beyond inept. It is a disgrace. And it was just such a monumental let down.

The absolute rubbish on display in the Griquas v Sharks game probably also played its part, and along with the red card for Michael Rhodes that was later deemed negligent rather than intentional, I have found myself questioning my interest in the sport!

Dark days my friends... dark days indeed!

But instead of reaching for the wrist slitter, or purchasing that subscription to Underwater Hockey Illustrated, perhaps some thoughts on what we can do to improve the situation...

As said earlier in the week, rugby is not only governed by a very complex set of laws, it is also a set of laws that is perhaps the most open to interpretation out of any sport on earth. The fact that one man’s interpretation of the laws can have such a direct bearing on a match result is probably the biggest problem facing the sport today (and we all know it is facing a few!)

So we need to introduce tools and practices that make decisions more objective, and less about interpretation, and if that means taking a little longer to make crucial calls, then so be it, because it can only be better than what happened at Eden Park on Saturday.

First up - one man can no longer officiate a game of rugby. It has become too complex, with too much riding on it. Yes, touch judges are now called assistant referees, and the ref has a TMO at his disposal, but quite clearly, the man with the whistle still calls the shots, hence the move to calling up replays on the big screen for him to look at rather than listen to the TMO. This has to change. One man might coordinate the officials, but all of them need equal power to make decisions.

In an interview with Nick Mallett for the next issue of SCRUM Magazine, he suggested having two referees on the field, with each looking after a half of the field divided by an imaginary line splitting the goal posts on either end of the field. Each would need to agree on the other’s call, and if in disagreement with each other, they would call in the TMO. It would also be a good way to keep an eye on both sides of the scrum, and both sets of offside lines. I understand this has been trialled with success at Stellenbosch.

The TMO is a fantastic tool for officials, but it is not being used optimally at the moment. First up, it cannot be a chair for young referees to cut their teeth, or a chair for referees who are being punished for on field mistakes. It is a crucial part of the officiating process and should be reserved for retired referees or TMO specialists.

The TMO needs to be using a 60 inch high definition screen that comes with only the referee’s audio channel and not the TV commentary as the latter could influence a decision. He obviously needs to be connected to the TV production people so as to ask for specific replays, but should be away from the side of the field, and not be able to hear the crowd. With today’s technology, does he actually need to be at the ground at all?

The TMO needs to be part of the officiating team and able to call down should he spot anything missed by the referee(s).

Given the difference in screens at the various venues round the world, we need to move away from calling up replays onto the big screen for the ref to make a call. The TMO is part of the officiating team, and if needing to make calls from replays, use the TMO! An option might be to also have a standard TV booth on the side of the field that the ref can take a look at, as they do in American football, so as to give the ref a chance to look at something again.

Sure it all sounds bloody clumsy, time consuming, and very American, but can the sport afford to have another Poite-type blunder?

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop and editor of the recently launched free monthly digital rugby magazine called SCRUM

Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.
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