TMO tortures Cheetahs

Referees need to be more consistent when referring try-scoring decisions to the TMO.

Australian referee Paul Marks did the Cheetahs a disservice on Saturday when he asked the TMO if he could provide a reason why a try had not been scored by Chiefs scrumhalf Brendon Leonard. Television replays were inconclusive, so the TMO’s verdict was that he could not see the ball. Marks then bizarrely awarded the try.

That score came at a critical stage of the game. The Cheetahs were ahead 17-0 just after half-time and it gave the rattled Chiefs a much needed boost.

Later in the match, the Chiefs again drove their way over the line and claimed a try. Again, the referee couldn’t see the ball being grounded, yet this time he asked the TMO a different question. “Can you tell me if a try has been scored,” said Marks. After several replays, the TMO again said he couldn’t see the ball being grounded, and Marks awarded a 5m scrum.

Referees are human and make mistakes, but there is no excuse for the above inconsistency. By changing his question in the second incident, Mark’s was effectively admitting he’d screwed up in the first.

On a related topic, another controversial episode in the build-up to the Chiefs’ second try showed why the TMO should play a greater role in rugby. Sitiveni Sivivatu floated a forward pass that was missed by the referee, and the winger regained possession to make it 17-12.

Why couldn’t the referee have provisionally awarded the try, and then asked the TMO if the pass was legitimate? After a short break, “No try” could have been flashed on the stadium TV screen and the Cheetahs would have had a scrum nearly the halfway line.

Rugby is a professional sport and can no longer allow human error (of referees) to determine the result of matches. Fortunately, the IRB is aware of this problem and plans to trial a referral system that will allow coaches to challenge on-field decisions. For coaches like Naka Drotske, it can’t come soon enough.

By Simon Borchardt