Clear and Obvious

We’re all having to get used to the new TMO calls, and they’ve led to some bewitching moments this season.  Three recent ones involving Irish provinces spring readily to mind: Connacht’s try in Toulouse being ruled out, albeit correctly in the end, for a minor knock on some 70m down the pitch, and both Munster and Leinster’s tries against Scarlets and Connacht being allowed to stand in spite of what looked like a knock on at the base and a forward offload respectively.

As with seemingly every law tweak, change or ‘new interpretation’, the unintended consequences are usually what comes to pass, and so it appears in this case.  Indeed, there’s every chance that the new TMO laws will result in more, not less, forward-pass tries being awarded.  Why is this?  Because when the referee goes to the TMO to check out a pass in the build-up the TMO must spot something ‘clear and obvious’ to prevent the try being awarded.  Therefore, once the ball is dotted down over the try-line and the referee, rather than trusting his instincts, refers the decision upstairs, it’s more likely to be given than not because the burden of proof is all on the side of the infringement.

Was Jimmy Gopperth’s offload to Gordon D’arcy clearly and obviously forward?  No.  But was it, in all likelihood, viewed in realtime, a forward pass?  Yes.  Was David Kilcoyne’s knock-on at the base of the scrum against Scarlets clear and obvious.  No.  But a hand was on the ball and the ball then took a roll forward.  Viewed in real time, and seen by the referee, this would probably have been blown up on the spot.  Had the referees in each case been required to call it there and then, and trust their instinct, it’s highly likely neither try would have been awarded.

Referees will need to have the courage to blow things up as they occur rather than give themselves the safety blanket of the TMO, or they’ll be in danger of turning into robo-refs. The situation can turn even more farcical when touch judges are asked questions like “was he in touch” and can’t decide, recommending the TMO get involved. I mean, what is a touch judge there for, but to see if someone is in touch? Do your job.

Our favourite TMO moment was in the Boks game in Mendoza (we think) when Dreamboat Steve Walsh went upstairs to check something he was unsighted on, only to decide himself what he wanted to give once he saw it on the big screen. When the TMO gave a verdict that differed, he alpha-maled him into thinking again, until he got what he thought was the correct call. Is there anything he can’t do?

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60 Comments

  1. DaveW

     /  January 6, 2014

    I thought the pass to D’arcy was clearly and obviously forward. It went forward out of the hands, and went forward on the pitch. I don’t know how the TMO decided it wasn’t – and if he’s constrained by the phrase “clean and obvious” in the question, I still don’t know how he did it.

    It wasn’t Clancy’s greatest game either, which I’m sure doesn’t help Connacht fans when something like this tops it off. While you’d think it’d be nice to get the rub of the green from the referees for once as a Leinster fan, it still tastes bad.

  2. Agree with the issue of ‘clear and obvious’, and especially for forward passes – singularly the most difficult thing to be sure about given the current ruling about the direction of the hands (which is a nonsense, in my opinion – if you’re running forward, ball in hand, it should be your responsibility to not let the ball travel forward when you pass).

    Another TMO shambles this weekend was at Ravenhill where, four and a half minutes in, Alain Rolland referred some possible foul play, but also (seemingly at the behest of POM/POC – whoever was wearing the captaincy hat at that particular moment) went to check a possible knock on on the other side of the pitch from a while ago. There hadn’t even been a try scored. There was no knock on, and a penalty was given for the foul play, with no further sanction, everything stood exactly as Rolland had called it originally, but we all wasted 10 minutes getting frustrated.

    • Stevo

       /  January 6, 2014

      If you’re running forward, ball in hand, and you pass it, the ball will almost certainly travel forward. That’s basic physics, and it’s the reason a forward pass is judged relative to the player rather than the pitch.

      • curates_egg

         /  January 6, 2014

        © Albert Einstein

      • Bueller

         /  January 6, 2014

        In fairness Stevo there are 178 degrees at which you can throw the ball to ensure that it won’t travel forward provided enough pressure is applied in the passing motion. Im not saying I disagree with the current laws but they definitely leave the door open for manipulation…..

    • Yossarian

       /  January 6, 2014

      That moment in the Ulster game was so frustrating!checking a knock on at half way!?!i think(hope!) this experiment with the TMO will be over soon. If a ref thinks something is a knock on/infringement/ whatever call it.Don’t wait and see if something happens 50m later, refs are losing their ability to ref what they see for fear of trial by TV after the game.

      • toro toro

         /  January 7, 2014

        Hang on, it’s not like that was an unrelated incident.

        If the ball had been knocked on there, and Gilroy not obstructed, then the try would have been disallowed and the game hauled back for that.

        That means that the knock-on is essential to determine whether Gilroy was denied a try-scoring opportunity by the interference later in the move.

        It seemed perfectly legit to me.

  3. “Steve Walsh went upstairs to check something he was unsighted on, only to decide himself what he wanted to give once he saw it on the big screen”
    That’s how it’s supposed to work this season. It should be pointed out that both calls against Connacht did not change the result, we won anyway in Toulouse, and D’arcy’s non-try realistically only cost us a losing bonus point. Who’d argue with that glorious beard anyway?

    Of more worry is the plethora of “softening-up” incidents Connacht have had to put up with over the last 2 games: Cronin and friend double-teaming Gavin Duffy as he lay on the ground*; Earls laying into Browne; Moore leading with the head on Marmion; Heaslip on Parks. The first 3 didn’t even get referred to the TMO; the last one might as well not have been.
    The Irish refs are clearly petrified of being blamed for the suspension of an international player (Earls and Moore could have been red carded and/or cited, the other two were just yellows); it being Connacht have just one, the other provinces have carte blanche to wade in.

    I was at the RDS 5 years ago when Stan Wright carried the can for Jennings and Fogarty repeatedly punching Adrian Flavin as he was pinned on the ground. Both should have been immediately red carded – they were subsequently cited and banned before their bans got recinded on a technicality so they could play in the HEC – but weren’t, while a Hail Mary forward pass in the end game robbed us of a LBP.
    What’s that, Gerry? Plus ca change, you say?

    *Not that type of double teaming. Seriously, even Deadly Dudley might have (cough) gone upstairs (cough) for that.

    • The Incident That Never Happened (in the Irish print meeja) is another example – international players definitely seem to have a higher bar in the eyes of our referees. Maybe we should get some foreigners in – particularly sculpted ones with divine cheekbones who refer to players as “mate”.

      The funniest thing about the Walsh incident was him advising his TMO to think again and go back upstairs. Legend

      • Quick straw poll of wives and girlfriends finds unanimous approval for your suggestion. If the game’s on RTE or Sky could we work in Shane Horgan interviewing the ref?

    • curates_egg

       /  January 6, 2014

      Having looked at the Moore incident dozens of times now, I don’t get the brouhaha. It was a clumsy challenge but his arms are in front and he is clearly trying to disrupt the pass – the fact his head went into Marmion’s shoulder was down to bad execution but Moore was far more likely to injure himself as a result.

      The Heaslip and D’Arcy calls were ‘jokeshop’.

      • Yossarian

         /  January 6, 2014

        agree, didn’t see anything wrong with what he did.I is a ruck,what is he supposed to hit with!?! “it’s not tiddlywinks”

        • Leaving aside the complete non-refereeing of binding to the ruck in the modern game, it’s still quite clear from normal refereeing practice that you’re not supposed to shoulder charge people in the head at the breakdown. Generally speaking, rucks should resemble wrestles more than they do “hits”, so if someone goes out of their way to hit someone without binding on to them, rather than attempting to dislodge them from their position protecting the ball for their side, they’re probably doing it wrong. And that’s not making the game into “tiddly winks”, it’s a rule/practice which is designed to prevent serious head and neck injuries, which, to be frank, Kieran Marmion could have received from that challenge from Moore. Something similar happened to Niall Ronan against Scarlets last season, and he had to be stretchered off.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 7, 2014

            Marmion was passing the ball from the ruck (neither player was in the ruck). As soon as he has his hands on the ball, he is fair game, so long as the tackling player is onside and comes through from the right side. Moore is clearly trying to disrupt the pass and has both his hands out in front to “wrap” his tackle. It is a clumsy tackle – in that Moore’s head gets in the way – but I cannot see how it is not legitimate (your explanation totally misrepresents various aspects of the situation).

            I also think the notion that Marmion was more likely to get injured than Moore is utter nonsense. Moore’s head is the first part of his body to make contact (with Marmion’s shoulder). It is the type of stupid tackle that players get injured from.

            Here is the incident in all its glory anyway: https://vine.co/v/hYgTgmmAAw9

    • connachtexile

       /  January 6, 2014

      “Earls laying into Browne” – If it makes you feel any better Rodney boxed the head off him a few minutes after. 🙂 Both Rolland and Clancy covered themselves in glory this wknd. I think in future we need foreign refs to marshal the interpro’s our own are too scared to slay so of the sacred cows on the field.

  4. Shelflife68

     /  January 6, 2014

    In the Leinster Connacht game , had there been no TMO available I believe that one of the team of 3 would have called it forward.Instead they played on as they knew that they had the safety cushion of the TMO.In this case the angles werent great, so the TMO had to look at the direction of the hands in the pass,they were going backwards alright but Gobberth was facing sideways do the ball went forward.

    Everyone knew that it was forward id say even the team of 3 knew, but the constraints on the TMO wouldnt let him give a common sense decision, a good ballsy ref would have made the call that Yes thats forward cheers TMO ala Walsh or Owens.

    • Completely agree with this, and I’d like to say it’s the same problem that has plagued the use of TMO since the beginning. So many refs are so afraid of being wrong that they’ll go to the TMO even when everything plays out clear as day. I’d like to say though, that it’s not the presence of the TMO that’s the problem so much as the application of it – as you say, the great refs know when to use TMO, and when they actually can tell what happened. This isn’t so much to do down refs, because I know the job is incredibly hard. It’s more to say that I think they need more training on staying in the moment and making a call if they can.

      P.S. Amid the complaining about the overuse of TMO, I have to say that Rolland’s decision NOT to go to the TMO for the potential fourth Munster try was ridiculous. It’s like he didn’t know they have multiple cameras. Furthermore, I don’t understand why both he and his assistant were so focused on the touchdown they couldn’t spot that they also couldn’t see Ulster players dragging Munster players out of the maul from the back. Seems like the worst of both worlds there – didn’t spot a touchdown that seems almost certain to have happened, given how far over the line the maul was, and also didn’t spot blatant infringements at the back of the maul.

      P.P.S. By no means is the preceding paragraph a means of saying Munster were the only team hard done by in Ravenhill, as WoC clearly outline. I just thought that the non-use of TMO in that case provided an interesting and equally wrong contrast to the overuse of TMO in other cases.

      • Completely agree on “Elaine” Rolland (c Triminjus) – it looked a certain try, and if it wasn’t, should have been a penalty try (and I’m from Ulster). Saved Ulster’s blushes big time, but I’d say Cockerill was taking copious notes … of which more later in the week

      • I may be wrong, but I thought that AR said something like “the TMO won’t be able to tell me anything that I can’t see with my own eyes”, i.e. he could clearly see that it wasn’t, or couldn’t have been grounded, and he seemed to be in a prettty good position for that. If that’s the case, isn’t that what we’re arguing for here – a referee that can see what happened and doesn’t need the safety net? Mind you, if I’m wrong, then I might well agree with you…

        • osheaf01

           /  January 7, 2014

          Munster people don’t have a problem with his decision not to use the TMO. His means of restarting the game (scrum 5) was ridiculous and laughable, though – Afoa and Stevenson were clearly committing penalty offences as the maul rumbled over the line. He should have considered penalty try and yellow card; the minimum was restarting with a penalty to Munster.

      • @Completebore

         /  January 6, 2014

        Roland had a mare on Friday night and his linos hung him out to dry on a couple of occassions; don’t think I’ve ever seen him so poor and he had a full array of dumb decisions for both sides to feel annoyed with. By the time that maul rumbled over the line I just wanted him to make a decision without the TMO as I was losing all feeling in my toes. But he was in a good position for a change and I haven’t watched the match back but was there a camera angle that gave a good view of a possible touchdown?

        • I don’t remember them showing any others…

        • I actually don’t know, but certainly he didn’t. His argument to the Munster players was that no camera could see anything in that morass of bodies, but sure he didn’t actually know that, did he? Quite possibly there was no angle, but I wouldn’t mind someone checking when a try was on the line (given that he had taken to checking some pretty ticky-tack stuff during the match). And to exacerbate that, he made the wrong decision even if he had been right about no camera angle!

          • Stevo

             /  January 7, 2014

            I don’t think it matters whether there were cameras that could have shown whether the ball was touched down or not. Surely the point of the TMO is to possibly see things the ref can’t see – if he believes he has a clear view of what’s happened, in this case the ball being held up, then he has no need to go to the TMO. The real error Rolland made was not awarding a penalty or even a penalty try for the infringements by Ulster players at that maul.

          • It seemed to me at the time that he was saying he couldn’t see it touched down, not that he could see it clearly held up (he certainly didn’t make it clear that he had definitely seen it held up). However, as Alan points out, I may have misinterpreted what he was saying, and it may have implied that he saw it held up. What I thought I heard him say was something along the lines of, “The TMO’s not going to see anything that I can’t see myself”, which implies that he can’t see it touched down, but that he also doesn’t think the TMO will be able to see it, in which case I would say he should make sure. If, on the other hand, he was trying to say that he could see it held up, then you’re right, the bigger issue would be the failure to award the penalty/penalty try.

          • He did say that alright. It was poor refereeing one way or the other: if he saw it held up, then he didn’t communicate that or give the warranted penalty for offside; if he didn’t, he should have gone to the TMO. Simple enough in hindsight, but he seemed frazzled by the game.

        • jacothelad

           /  January 7, 2014

          I’ve just re watched several times the maul that led eventually to the 5m scrum and the only penalty that might possibly have been awarded was against Munster for a clear ‘truck and trailer’ offence over the try line. At no time do any Ulster players who were not initially legally bound interfere in any way. Several obviously have contact with the ball carrier and are entitled to hold on. That is why it’s called a maul and not musical chairs. Once over the try line there is no offside line. Rolland was absolutely correct in everything he did. Munster couldn’t ground the ball. He was right on the spot. Munster had an opportunity at the 5m scrum. Sadly for them they actually tried to scrummage legally for one of the few times in the game and got duffed.

  5. I don’t mind that refs can now make their own decisions on the TMO, but I wish it had been more clearly communicated (it probably was, but in the whole “HEY GUYS SCRUM LAWS ARE BEING TIGHTENED UP” I guess wasn’t reported on). Nigel Owens has been great with this, he always discusses with the TMO what each has seen and makes sure they come to an agreement, as it should be.

    What I do have issue with is that sometimes the time taken for the TMO to make a decision can take an *age*, due to either technology failures (referee on the phone to the TMO at Zebre-Ulster, Alain Rolland losing communication briefly during Ulster-Munster) or by TMO’s being shackled by question wordings and the “clear and obvious” ruling not being given any rigour.

    Obviously the former can only be improved upon with better infrastructure which will no doubt come with time, but for the latter I wonder if the IRB can instigate a rule that TMOs are only allowed to look at a certain aspect of play from each camera angle ‘x’ times. Perhaps once/twice at full speed, once at half/frame-by-frame. Obviously this opens up a whole other can of worms around whether there should be a need for the TMO at all, because it would bring things to a snap judgement which could just as easily be made by the ref by watching on the screen (or making the call in the first place).

    On a side note: It’s pretty funny how often a TMO decision can’t be made because player x/assistant y/cameraman z has put their body/foot/flag in the way at the crucial moment.

    • Or language barriers – often the most frustrating of all

      • Oh man *yes*. In the whole phone thing I’d forgotten that the TMO had started looking at the wrong play entirely in the Zebre/Ulster match. It’s hard to criticise it too much though as at the end of the day new referees have to be trained up somehow, unfortunately Walsh and Owens won’t be around forever. 😦

  6. There needs to be a reasonable time limit put on TMO decisions. Waiting 5 minutes or more is ridiculous, make a decision and move on.

  7. Stevo

     /  January 6, 2014

    It’s all very well calling for refs to show the courage of their convictions, but the increasing role of the TMO in the professional era is reflected by increasing scrutiny of incidents in the television studios. Purists might applaud the ref who calls it as he sees it, but pundits and media hacks won’t.

  8. The forward pass has become a shambles. Could anything be more “clear and obvious” than Huget’s pass for Toulouse’s try against Clermont yesterday? The TMO had a few looks at the close-ups that must have convinced him that it satisfied the new “hands went backwards” invention, and that therefore allowed him to ignore the view from the main camera on halfway which showed the ball landing about 5 metres ahead of where he let go.

    On the main issue of the TMO’s role, surely the main idea of the TMO’s increased involvement was to avoid the situation where millions at home can see what the ref has missed, like Back’s hand; or a Scarlets try I remember where the TMO had to tell the ref that the ball was grounded perfectly, but was not allowed to tell him that it had been knocked on as it was being gathered one metre before the line.

    Strong refereeing is great, but… what if Wayne Barnes had said to Leinster that he had seen Fofana ground the ball perfectly and he didn’t need to refer to the TMO? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

    The delays are tiresome – anyone see the Italy v Fiji match? – but I would rather wait for the right answer than get on with the game, only for the TV director to find a new angle clearly showing that my team has lost by one score on a bad decision.

    • aoifehamill

       /  January 6, 2014

      Or the Mike Phillips try in 2011 6N – gah!

    • anoonamous

       /  January 6, 2014

      The “new “hands went backwards” invention” is hardly new. This video was released by the Aussie rugby union years ago.

    • toro toro

       /  January 7, 2014

      “what if Wayne Barnes…”

      Never gonna happen. He is matched only by Dave Pearson in his utter cowardice as a referee. A player could walk over unchallenged and place it gently on the ground with both hands and not an opponent near, and Wayne Barnes would go upstairs lest the boys in the studio find a twig to beat him with.

      • Stevo

         /  January 7, 2014

        I know we like to have a go at poor old Wayne Barnes on these shores, but in this case he’s deserving. He’s always been the one leading the charge to use the TMO for any but the most obvious scores.

  9. Aoife

     /  January 6, 2014

    This is no comment on the match at the weekend because I was in a pub and didn’t get a great look at the replays but suggest anyone who has a problem with the “how the hands moved invention” look at the video below. The ball will frequently travel forward from a completely legal pass. This is much more pronounced if the passer is stopped dead in their tracks by a tackle. Thus the gut instinct “viewed in real time” forward pass call may well be incorrect.

    Knock ons on the other hand should be much easier to judge for the referee, I’d prefer they used the TMO less for this.

    I’ve no problem with Rolland not going to the TMO for the Munster try if he could see with his own eyes that it had been held up. If he was in doubt, fine but if he wasn’t then why waste another 5 minutes to come to the same conclusion. I suppose the issue here is if you trust the referee.

    • Riocard O Tiarnaigh

       /  January 6, 2014

      Well done Aoife for posting that video. Pity the Setanta commentator hadn’t watched it before the Toulouse/Clermont match and started blowing on about Huget’s pass being forward, which IMO it was not – see Curate’s Egg’s reference re Albert Einstein. As for Gopperth’s trymaking pass to D’Arcy – now that clearly was forward!!!!!

  10. anoonamous

     /  January 6, 2014

    Why don’t the TMOs anticipate being called in to action? They are being paid to sit in a van and make decisions when called upon. Why not start looking at potential calls straight away. It may only save a few seconds but added up over a contentious match, you could be looking at minutes…

  11. Don Alfonso

     /  January 6, 2014

    The most ludicrous use of a TMO in recent years was Roland going upstairs when reffing Leinster vs. Ulster last year, for Leinster’s last-ditch attempt at a try. He’d whistled for held up – HE’D WHISTLED THE GAME OVER – and then still went upstairs.

    How can you do that, however much Leo Cullen is in your ear? What would have happened if the TMO had adjudged it a try? How would Roland have passed off a decision like that? There would have been a serious case for Ulster saying “sorry, Roland, game’s over”.

    Hypothetical, but it’s an interesting scenario.

    • Was Clancy, not Roland. Clancy is easily browbeaten by the ‘big guns’ of Irish Rugby. I’m pretty confidant that Rolland would have told Plug and Cronin – who did the whining -to go boil their heads.

      • Don Alfonso

         /  January 6, 2014

        Sorry – of course it was Clancy. Still trying to grumble about Roland’s Friday performance elsewhere at the same time, and confusing my pretty wee head.

        I remember him saying, to Pug presumably, “if it’s a try, it’s a try”. It would actually have been WWIII. Were I Johann Muller, I’d have led the team off the pitch without waiting to see what the TMO said. (I’m very decisive and dramatic when I’m imagining I’m someone else.)

  12. Ciano

     /  January 6, 2014

    I seem to have mistakenly held the belief for years that knock ons are only knock ons if they hit the deck, and for years nothing occurred to challenge that belief. There have been a handful of fumbles that were eventually caught before they hit the ground that were called back for knock on recently. Can anyone kindly enlighten me?

    • Yossarian

       /  January 6, 2014

      if you gain an advantage knocking forward intentionally even if you regather it is a knock on(imagine slapping a ball forward to beat an onrushing defender/defensive line) if someone else comes in contact with the ball before you regather it is also a knock on.

        • curates_egg

           /  January 7, 2014

          BOD passed the ball backwards; to himself. Hence why the vid is titled: “moment of genius” and not “forward pass”. *cough* troll *cough*

          • Bozo

             /  January 7, 2014

            Technically could that one be called crossing?

          • jacothelad

             /  January 7, 2014

            Except that the ball clearly goes forward. He throws it while behind the halfway line and collects it in front of it. The ball travelled such a short distance that it didn’t have time to deviate due to it’s momentum. Still a great piece of thinking though. I remember the play at the time. It was really great. A better example of a deliberate k.o. is by Tana Umaga against England a few years back. He clearly knocked the ball forward deliberately and then caught it and ran in for an ‘intercept’ try which I.M.O., should have been called back for a k.o. or even a penalty for a deliberate k.o. He flipped the ball up so it wasn’t a slap down but it was still clearly in my view, a deliberate knock forward.

          • I was just looking for an explanation-paranoid!!!

          • curates_egg

             /  January 7, 2014

            @jaco it is not clear from that clip but the ball may go forward (due to momentum) but the pass was backwards – see the IRB explanations above and Stevo’s comment on relativity.

          • curates_egg

             /  January 7, 2014

            The crossing point can be debated though.

    • jacothelad

       /  January 6, 2014

      They would be a knock on if the ball hits an opponent or team mate in front of the fumbling player who then retrieves the ball before it hits the ground.

  13. Brian

     /  January 6, 2014

    I agree with Colm above (@tfzl). I was in musgrave park for the Scarlett’s game and the wait was a sickener in the cold. A buddy of mine proposed a solution that he’d like to see a situation like in the NFL where refs are forced to make a ruling on the field in real time but can still refer to the TMO. If it takes more then a min or 90secs to decide from VT then the refs first instinct must stand. Makes sense to me anyway

  14. Riocard Ó Tiarnaigh

     /  January 7, 2014

    Any particular reason why my comment, praising Aoife for posting the video and criticising the Setanta commentator of the Toulouse/Clermont match for seeming ignorance of the forward pass rule was not posted/accepted?

  15. Patrick O'Riordan

     /  January 7, 2014

    Interesting article by Gezza in today’s IT putting forward the idea that each side has a limited number of appeals to the TMO during the game and these must be communicated to the ref by the captain.

    Presumably if nobody appeals or if they’ve used up their appeals, the officials need to rely on their own judgement without recourse to the TMO.

    Presumably the ref would need to declare what his decision was first, then give the captains the opportunity to go to TMO to overturn this.

    • You’d have to define what can be appealed against, and when you can appeal.

      What if you had a scenario where a defending team appealed on the basis a player was in touch before touching down – the replays show the player was clearly in touch but a miles-forward pass was missed by the officials and not appealed for – is the try given despite it being clearly wrong? Or can teams issue a generalized appeal that goes back N phases? And what about the burden of proof – is it “clear and obvious” or “balance of probabilities” – that matters for a non-line decision.

      I think the idea works well in cricket where all decisions are pretty much in/out (and uses technology e.g. Hawkeye, Hotspot) or NFL where there are millions of TV angles and rarely 20 heaving forwards on top of the ball. But would it translate as well to rugby where you can have replays that no-one can interpret 100% one way or another?

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