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The use of technology and TMOs has increased the focus on rugby union referees.
Rugby union Sport

The use of technology and TMOs has increased the focus on rugby union referees.

It felt like anticipating the outcome of a vote: was Scotland truly a dominant force in the world of rugby, capable of handling the pressure of high expectations? Or were they simply putting on a show, lacking the resilience to compete at the top level? The final verdict was left to television match official Brian MacNeice, as referee Nic Berry ruled that Sam Skinner’s attempt to score was stopped just short of the try line. With France in the lead 20-16 at Murrayfield and the 80th minute approaching, this would be the deciding moment of the game.

There were several replays shown and frames were slowly moving across the screen. It seemed like the ball may have touched the ground after sliding off a French player’s foot. However, it was not deemed significant enough to change the decision. The proper protocol had to be followed and the original call made by Berry held more weight than what we saw with our own eyes. Therefore, it was ruled as not a try.

Nigel Owens, a former referee with 19 years of experience, states that if he were the TMO and had seen the evidence, he would have granted the try.

I believe that the attacking team should be given the benefit of the doubt. This has been the standard practice in the past. My approach is comparable to awarding penalty tries. It is impossible to determine with certainty if a try would have been scored. Instead, we must consider the likelihood, and in this situation, I would say the ball was most likely grounded.

Many criticize rugby for being stuck in old ways, but it is also continuously evolving. Along with frequent rule changes and better safety measures, technology has played a role in making the game more exciting and aiding officials in making more precise decisions. However, according to Owens, there has been a downside to this.

Owens explains that advancements in technology have led to a mindset where people believe decisions should be clear-cut, but in the sport of rugby, refereeing involves navigating through many ambiguous situations. This reliance on technology has resulted in frequent controversies, and Owens believes it has actually hindered the quality of refereeing. He compares it to walking on a tightrope between two tall buildings – without a safety net, one must be skilled and confident in their abilities, but with a safety net, there is room for error.

Unfortunately, technology was intended to reduce the mistreatment towards referees, but it has only brought attention to their errors. This puts them in a vulnerable position, as anyone with access to social media can join in on the criticism. The level of animosity towards referees has never been higher.

Nigel OwensView image in fullscreen

In a report released this month, World Rugby discovered that during last year’s World Cup, match officials were subjected to 49% of all directed abuse. One referee in particular, Wayne Barnes, who oversaw the final game where he ejected New Zealand’s captain Sam Cane and disallowed an All Blacks try against South Africa, was the most frequently targeted individual. Three other referees also made the top nine list of those who received the most abuse.

Therefore, Owens desires for technology to be simplified in order to solely determine if a ball has crossed the line, bringing us back to the initial point. Currently, officials must rely on low-quality replays, but they may soon have an additional resource available to them.

Sportable, the company responsible for developing the technology, has installed 10 beacons around the stadium to track every Gilbert ball used in the Six Nations. This innovative system allows broadcasters and teams to analyze gameplay and communicate with referees. Last year, a “smart ball” was tested at the World Rugby Under-20 Championship, which accurately recorded the ball’s movement, spin, and exact location on the field in real time. This was especially useful in determining lineout locations and resolving forward pass calls, removing any guesswork. However, stakeholders have noted that the only aspect not yet covered by this technology is the grounding of the ball.

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“Our team at Sportable, led by James Lewis, is currently exploring and developing various ideas and concepts.”

This project is included in our future plans, but it will take a while to complete. It’s worth mentioning that there are various factors involved, such as needing to apply pressure on the ball during a grounding. However, if a player is holding the ball, pushing down is not always necessary to score a try. Therefore, Lewis states that for the time being, we will have to rely on video replays.

That doesn’t mean the game is at a stalemate. Owens argues that a recalibration of the laws would resolve the issue. “We need to reward attacking rugby,” he says. “I’d change the ‘held-up’ law. I think it rewards negative play where you can effectively just fall under the ball to win it back. That law was made to encourage teams to pass down the line rather than pick-and-go, but it hasn’t worked like that. What I’d do in that situation is award a five-metre scrum to the attacking team.”

Maybe this could have provided Scotland with the opportunity to alter the outcome of a vote while lessening the negativity directed towards officials who were merely adhering to established procedures.

Source: theguardian.com