TMO decision on foul play rulings imminent

LIAM NAPIER IN LONDON
Last updated 05:00 02/12/2012

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Next year's Super Rugby competition and the June internationals between the All Blacks and France could allow television match officials to highlight acts of thuggery.

Currently, a TMO can't inform the match referee if a malicious offence has been committed. The fourth official can only be called upon to rule on the act of scoring.

But that could be about to change.

Fairfax Media understands the International Rugby Board will meet on December 20 to decide if significant changes will operate in 2013, including the ability for the TMO to advise referees of foul play.

Wide-spread calls for a review of the system have emerged this week after the uproar in Cardiff, when South African referee Craig Joubert and his assistants missed All Blacks hooker Andrew Hore knocking out Welsh lock Bradley Davies with a swinging arm from behind, in the first two minutes of the test.

Replacement Welsh flanker Justin Tipuric also got away with his second-half stomping on All Blacks prop Wyatt Crockett's leg.

Both players were allowed to stay on the field, despite damning video replays being repeatedly played to the 80,000 fans at Millennium Stadium and the millions more watching around the globe.

The lack of action was a bad look for rugby's world-wide image.

Hore received a five-week ban for his act but several players and administrators want to prevent similar ugly incidents going unpunished during a match.

IRB referee manager Joel Jutge refused to take calls but confirmed via email a decision on expanding TMO powers was imminent, and an IRB spokesperson revealed the meeting would take place in just over two weeks.

"We have a meeting soon about the TMO, we need to discuss a lot because it's not easy," Jutge said. "I am not in a position now to make any comments. Maybe later."

Former Welsh captain Kingsley Jones has demanded change.

"How long will it be till the fourth official can actually come in and say, 'Right, cheap shot, red card?'" Jones told the BBC. "How long will that be? Because we have to clean the game up in the end, at the moment we're trialling that."

Steps are already underway to ensure red-faced referees are not hung out to dry and left powerless to police footage they may have missed.

Successful trials in South Africa's Currie Cup competition this year and in the on-going English Premiership have broadened TMO jurisdiction to include incidents leading up to a try, and pointing out where a player has broken the law.

Sunday News understands feedback from the trial has been widely positive, with teams appreciating the clarity and swift decision-making.

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With these findings, it is understood the IRB will consider introducing changes to the TMO powers for next year's three-test June series, which features France in New Zealand, and embedding it in Super Rugby from 2013.

However, some teething issues remain on the debate table.

Those include the need for clear guidelines about how far back a TMO can review while the IRB is mindful of taking too much authority away from the whistlers.

Other concerns are around making sure the game's continuity is not disrupted by too many stoppages, like those seen in many American sports. 

- Sunday Star Times

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