JOHANNESBURG - Governing body SANZAAR ordered a review of Super Rugby's video refereeing system Monday, admitting the current system is "clearly not working" after a string of contentious decisions.
Coaches and pundits have expressed concerns in recent weeks that the television match official (TMO) is becoming increasingly influential and undermining the on-field referee. SANZAAR, which oversees Super Rugby and the Rugby Championship, said it had major concerns about the way TMO protocols were being implemented.
"The protocols are clearly not working and a specific review is required in this area," chief executive Andy Marinos said in a statement. "SANZAAR believes the appointed referee needs to remain the key decision maker on the field and that TMO interventions only provide context to the match officials' decision making."
SANZAAR said the concerns had been highlighted over the past month, although it did not cite specific cases. However, the most recent controversy centres on Sunwolves' flanker Ed Quirk's red card after replays showed him brush a closed fist on the cheek of Queensland Reds fly-half Hamish Stewart.
Even Reds' coach Brad Thorn disagreed with the decision, which helped his team to a 48-27 win, calling Quirk's action a "love tap". Thorn was also critical of the TMO last month when the Reds were given two first-half yellow cards in a loss to Auckland Blues that appeared innocuous in real time.
There was a similar debate when Sunwolves wing Semisi Masirewa was red-carded against the NSW Waratahs a week later. Similar controversy has also affected international matches, with France's Benjamin Fall sent off in the first Test against the All Blacks last month for a dangerous tackle as Beauden Barrett leapt to catch a kick.
The TMO allowed the decision to stand on the night but World Rugby later rescinded the card after reviewing footage of the incident. Australians also questioned Israel Folau's yellow card in a series-deciding loss to Ireland, when he was punished for upending Peter O'Mahony but appeared to be going for the ball. Marinos said SANZAAR could not unilaterally change TMO protocols, which are governed by rugby's international rules.
"However, we are keen to lead the discussion in this important area," he said. "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."