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?