TMO protocols – how to make rugby even more complex!

Rugby is a complicated game, but sometimes the law makers try and make it as complicated as they can. Take the protocols around the use of the Television Match Official (TMO) in helping to determine if a try has been scored.

The rules allow referees to consult the TMO “….. when  the  referee  requires confirmation  with  regard  to  the  scoring  of   a  try”. Sounds simple enough but instead of allowing the referee to ask the TMO “is this a try?”, the lawmakers have brought in confusion by allowing the referee to ask one of two questions:

1) Is  it  a  try  –  yes  or  no?

2) Can  you  give  me  a  reason  why  I  cannot  award  a  try?

The Rugby Championship game between Australia and New Zealand on the 8th August included such an incident where the TMO was asked to adjudicate whether the All Black winger Milner-Skudder got the ball to ground for a try. Here is the clip:

The clip shows Nigel Owens has got himself in to a good position just a split second or so after Milner-Skudder has crossed the line. The audio is not too clear but we can hear Nigel Owens says to the referee Wayne Barnes “contact was made with the ground, I would ask ‘any reason why you can’t award the try?’, because he did finally get it down”.

Let’s look at what Owens said in a bit more detail.  Firstly, he has confirmed that the ball has touched the ground and he was in as good a position as he could be to see this. So why doesn’t he say to Barnes that a try was scored?

Only Owens knows why but we can infer that because he says “…he finally got it to ground….”, there is an element of doubt in Owens’ mind that the try was legal. This could be because Milner-Skudder took several movements to put the ball down or perhaps he lost contact with the ball as he went over the line; we don’t know. We do know that Owens wasn’t 100% sure a legal try had been scored.

If this is the case why did Owens suggest to Barnes that the question the TMO should be asked was “any reason why a try can’t be awarded?”. By asking this question it is putting the onus on the TMO to find an offence which would mean the try would have to be disallowed. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary a try would have been awarded.

In the Milner-Skudder example the TMO had clear sight of the ball and he could confirm that there hadn’t been an offence, so the initial question asked didn’t influence the outcome. There are other examples though where the question asked has determined whether a try was awarded or not.

Ospreys v Scarlets December 2014

In this clip you will see the Ospreys set up a maul off a line out near the Scarlets’ try line. The Ospreys get an effective drive on and a mass of bodies flop over the Scarlets’ try line. Neither the referee (Marius Mitrea) nor the cameras seem to be able to see the ball, let alone whether it has been touched down but Mitrea asks the TMO “is there any reason I can’t award the try?”.

As soon as this question is asked the onus falls on the TMO and surprise surprise the TMO can’t see the ball (“we don’t have any sight of the ball” says TMO Derek Bevan) so he has to respond that he “can’t see a reason to award the try”! Bevan even says to Mitrea “you’d have to be happy you can award the try”.

This farcical scene has resulted in a try being awarded where the ball hasn’t been seen to have been touched down over the try line. It has only occurred because the TMO protocol allows referees to ask the TMO for a reason not to award the try.

Keep it simple!

If you are of the persuasion that tries should be awarded on the basis that they would likely have been scored or the attacking team should get the benefit of doubt you will disagree with my viewpoint.

I would allow referees to only ask the TMO is it a try or not and the referee and TMO should be allowed to communicate with each other to discuss what each of them saw from their respective perspectives. This would simplify the game and ensure tries are only awarded when we have seen them scored…..which must be a good thing?

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