New Rules for Rugby Video Referees Take Effect

The Aviva Premiership rugby union season got under way in England last weekend, giving fans and commentators alike the chance to see what difference changes to the rules on responsibilities of the video referee would make to the game.

New guidelines broadening the influence of the television match official (TMO) were announced earlier in the year by the sport’s governing body, the IRB (International Rugby Board). Previously, TMOs were involved only in decisions concerning in-goal play and the act of scoring a try. Now they are able to make decisions on foul play and incidents that happen inside the field of play during the run-up to a try.

The new rules allowing TMOs to advise the referee on such events were used on a trial basis in the Northern Hemisphere during August and will start to be used in the Southern Hemisphere in January.

Ed Morrison, head of professional referee development at the Rugby Football Union, is a supporter of the new rules. Though optimistic about the benefits from extending the TMO’s powers, he is cautious. “Camera angles can be very deceptive, and we’ve got to be very careful in that regard. It’s still a fundamental principle that the match referee is in charge, and much will depend on his instinct,” Morrison told the Telegraph newspaper.

The first test for the TMO came during the game between Wasps and Harlequins. The referee called his video counterpart in to analyse the lead-up to a try by Wasps player Tom Varndell, with the suspicion that the pass from Nicky Robinson had been forward. The TMO found that this had been the case, and the try was not given.

Although this seems to prove the benefit of the new powers, some observers were not happy. Ex-player–turned–TV–expert Austin Healey wondered why a good passage of play had been called back even though it had got as far as the try line. Former England coach Clive Woodward tweeted that assistant referees might now not look for foul plays and concentrate on the movement of the ball. He later deleted this comment from Twitter. Another ex-player and now pundit, Brian Moore, commented that anything which annoyed Austin Healey was a good thing.

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