DURBAN – This season seems to have been worse than ever in terms of crackpot refereeing decisions, interminable TMO intervention and rank inconsistency in the censure meted out to players who have committed similar offences.
Thank the rugby gods then that SANZAAR, the body governing Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, have broken what seems to be a brotherhood of silence among ruling bodies and lawmakers and called for a review of the officiating in Super Rugby this year.
Some in the corridors of power have listened to the chorus of dissent this season that has emanated from coaches, players and, most importantly, the spectators/viewers in South Africa, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia, the chief stakeholders in the game.
Among those administrators paying heed is SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos, who this week wagged a cautionary finger at match officials by publicly emphasising that they undergo continuous review to ensure those in the middle, on the sidelines and behind the TV monitor are the best.
He further stressed that errant referees can be dropped, just as out-of-form players are, and given game-related work to get them back to performing consistently.
That has hardly been the case in a season in which we have had to suffer fools on too many occasions, although most certainly not gladly.
Marinos, the former Natal and Western Province centre, implied that those officials who had consistently got it wrong will not get a gig in the Super Rugby play-offs.
And Marinos’ chief gripe is shared (and suffered) by almost all of us ... the time-wasting TMOs, the laptop jockeys that slow the game from a gallop to a juddering halt. Again and again.
“A major concern for us at present is the practical implementation of the Television Match Official protocols. The protocols are clearly not working and a specific review is required in this area.”
The TMOs have morphed out of control after having first been introduced for the meritorious reason of adjudging whether or not a try had been scored.
That was great but it is where it should have stopped. Now the TMOs are consulted on a host of subjects.
It has emasculated referees while giving too much power to the TMOs. And, vitally, the repeated calls to go upstairs interrupt the flow of the game.
They also affect certain dynamics of the game, for instance the fatigue factor that mostly affects the team doing the defending.
The breaks give the tacklers, well, a break while halting the momentum of the team doing most of the attacking.
Marinos agrees: “SANZAAR believes the referee needs to remain the key decision maker on the field and that TMO interventions should only provide context to the on-field decision making. We need better consistency in the application of the protocols and most would agree that this is not the case.
“The aim of the review will be to drive some operational changes to the protocols to ensure consistency and so that better outcomes are delivered.”
In effect, this means the TMOs should be put back in their boxes and only allowed out to do the job for which they were originally invented, and the referees will once again be the chief judge of what happens on the pitch.
But before we get too excited, Marinos’ statement had a caveat: “SANZAAR is not empowered to adjust any protocols that have a direct effect on the Laws of the Game.
However, we are keen to lead the discussion in this important area and following our review we will take our recommendations to World Rugby, the guardians of the Laws of Rugby, to ensure beneficial outcomes are achieved for the game.”
Fair enough... there has to be due process and all that, but it is an encouraging start.
And there was further common sense dispensed by SANZAAR in that the Super Rugby head coaches have helped influence the choice of referees for the playoffs.
“SANZAAR will shortly appoint the four referees for the Super Rugby quarter-finals. These will be merit-based appointments and their selection has included direct input from the coaches,” an upbeat Marinos warned.