Penalty try debacle puts spotlight on technology

WAYNE MARTIN
Last updated 13:00 28/02/2013

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OPINION: It was a good thing the Blues won in Wellington last Saturday, if only to avoid giving any credence to TMO Vinnie Munro's ludicrous penalty try decision.

The Blues eventually won their season-opening Super Rugby clash because they outplayed the more highly favoured Hurricanes, and showed a good deal more precision and character in their eventual four-try bonus point victory.

The issue wasn't whether Blues wing Frank Halai intentionally slapped the ball dead; Munro was free to rule any way he saw fit on that count. And he did, advising referee Glen Jackson to give Halai 10 minutes in the sin bin. Fair enough.

The real issue was whether a try probably would have been scored but for Halai's alleged foul play. Munro's interpretation clearly, in his opinion, identified it as such, although with both Halai and Hurricanes wing Julian Savea lying prone on the ground after their desperate respective sprints for the ball - and with Savea having already missed the ball a split second before Halai's alleged indiscretion - exactly where was the try coming from?

Hurricanes fans the length and breadth of the country will probably support Munro's decision. More pressing in light of the lengthy Super Rugby season ahead is that, irrespective of the technological support now available to match officials, there is obviously still room for ambiguity and confusion.

Munro is clearly not a cheat, and is a capable and confident referee in his own right. He saw what everyone else in front of a television screen saw, yet the incident still managed to spark plenty of debate.

Black Caps batsman Ross Taylor will understand Blues coach John Kirwan's frustration after apparently inconclusive video replay evidence also left Taylor and many others questioning his own controversial dismissal in the final ODI against England last weekend.

Most frustrating of all, there's no obvious solution. We're already supposedly light years ahead of where we were before technology was introduced to the game, yet the common denominator remains human interpretation and error. Until we have the facility to programme computers to analyse incidents and rule conclusively beyond any shred of doubt we're stuck with individuals making often-arbitrary decisions and, unfortunately, with the potential to ultimately affect a team's championship fate.

It's why we'll never totally eliminate the ambiguity and indecision from sport. What some people see as frustration, others view as a healthy source of water-cooler debate.

The system will probably never be foolproof, but it's what we're stuck with. So be prepared for plenty more debate and just hope championship fortunes aren't among the casualties.

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- Nelson

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