Debatable Varsity Cup TMO
There was a conversation between the referee and the television match official during the Varsity Cup Round One match between the Ikeys and the Shimlas in Cape Town on Monday which caused debate and consternation.
There is just one principle to bear in mind and that is that the TMO does not have a life of his own. assistant referees are often required to act off their own bat but not so the TMO. He gives advice only when the referee asks for it. The referee is in charge of the match. If he calls on the TMO, it is his decision, the help he asks for is his decision and, after the TMO has given advice, it remains the referee's decision.
The Ikeys attack the Shimla line and are near their posts. Prop François van Wyk has the ball and goes to ground right at the padding on the post.
The referee stops play and refers the matter to the TMO. His question is important: "Any reason why I cannot award a try."
That is one of two questions that a referee may put to the TMO. The other is the "try-no try" question, which the referee uses when he has no idea whether a try was scored or not. The referee uses the "any reason" question if he believes that a try has been scored and wants to know if something had happened before the try was score that could negate the try, like losing the ball in the act of scoring.
The TMO does not repeat the referee's question, but says: "I'll have a look."
The TMO looks at four replays before addressing the referee.
The TMO says: "There is no clear indication that a try has been scored."
That is not an answer to the "any reason" question. That would be an answer to the "try-no try" question. The difference is important.
The answer clearly causes confusion to referee. He refers to going back to his call, but the TMO again repeats his statement: "There is no clear indication that a try has been scored."
The referee, not firmly, says: "So I can go with my call of the ball in the elbow against the post."
For a third time the TMO says firmly: "There is no clear indication that a try has been scored."
The referee capitulates, repeats the TMO's advice, as he is required to do, and says that he will then go back to the penalty. The TMO tells him that that is the right thing to do.
It was not the right thing to do.
The TMO may have had no clear indication that a try had been scored, which was irrelevant, but he also had no clear indication that a try had not been scored, which was relevant to the question asked.
What is clearly visible is the ball on the ground against the posts with Van Wyk closest to it and quite possibly holding it.
If the ball-carrier, the ball, the ground and the post (including the padding) are all in contact at the same time it is a clear indication that a try has been scored.
The TMO is supposed to repeat the referee's question. The IRB's TMO protocol says: "The referee will then outline to the video referee the exact nature of the problem and the advice required. The video referee should repeat the referee's request to ensure the message is correct."
In this case the TMO did not do that, which may be at the heart of the problem.
The protocol has this to say about the "any reason" question: "The TMO can only state things that he can see and should tell the referee that the ball is unsighted and that there is no infringement that disqualifies a potential try.
"The TMO must look for clear evidence that try cannot be awarded. The fact that he may not be able to see the actual grounding of the ball is not clear proof that the try was not scored.
"He then advises the referee that he has seen no infringement, that the ball was unsighted and the decision becomes the referee's responsibility."
The decision in this case was a wrong decision. It should have been a try to the Ikeys, which they would have liked as it would have taken them to 16-13.