Make reffing a team game

One man can no longer officiate a game of rugby. It has become too complex, with too much riding on it. It is time to make it a team game says Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.

I am not even close to being over the Romain Poite shocker last weekend!

The Springboks vs the 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 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 vs Sharks game probably also played it’s 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?


  1. Tank, I watched an AFL (Aussie Rules) final at the MCG 2 weeks ago.

    There were 5 officilas on the field and x1 off the field.

    X3 refs on the field each looking after a thied of the field

    X2 touch judges

    X1 TMO

    When there was a big decision all three refs conferred with input from TMO and NO ONE was allowed to influence the decisions from the teams captains to the waterboys (like the kiwi waterboy in the bok game).

    Was VERY professional!

  2. All the comments and suggestions are valid but don’t you think it’s a little scary that we may move away from the simple game we all love? Besides, if there weren’t any controversies what would the web sites, TV’s and papers buzz about!!

    Make no mistake though I was very pissed off at both Ref, BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY THE TMO, mid morning last Saturday, my frustrations compounded in the WP/Bulls clash (also 14 vs. 15 for most of the game) – this brings me to raise two points:

    1. Isn’t it time to scrap Red cards completely (but stick with yellows) and then in the cold light of day on Monday (looking at facts and not emotions) let the judicial be very harsh on foul play – this would punish players and their teams but not necessarily the paying fan who looked forward to the clash all week and perhaps even went to great effort and expense to watch the spectacle. Emphasis on being very harsh on the Monday if applicable – like a criminal court all past misdemeanours should count – get nervous Ma Nonu!

    2. Bring back a little common sense – sure TMO Ayoub wasn’t asked to review “the tackle”, but surely (even though Aussies are renowned for following every letter of the law), no one in his right mind would have seriously considered hauling him over the coals if he broke protocol just a tiny bit and whispered in the ref’s earpiece “hey Romain please have another look at the tackle it’ll only take a second”.

  3. They tried two refs at Maties a couple of years ago, but for some reason abandoned the concept

  4. Tank, based on your comment below, what do you think of TMO Shaun Veldsman’s ability to interrupt the game and have Gerhard van den Heever sent off for a punch?

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

    1. Of course it all relies on the officials using some common sense! As Tweeted at the time – if you slow everything down to 1 screen every hour, everything can be made to look intentional. That was a ridiculous decision that only adds to the problem as people are now not trusting even the TMO!!

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