Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: TMO delays leave fans in the cold

Players and supporters voice frustration as constant referee referrals force matches to run up to 98 minutes.

The old adage that rugby is an 80-minute game no longer applies. In some cases in this Super Rugby season it has been more like a 100-minute game and not everyone is enjoying what could charitably be described as added value for money.

Under the International Rugby Board's television match official trial, which will be evaluated in May next year, referees can ask for more information from the TMO and many are taking full advantage.

They can also ask for possible instances of foul play to be replayed on a stadium's big screen, something that has also been responsible for the lengthy matches - and growing frustrations.

Some among the crowd of 15,000 at AMI Stadium on Saturday night for the game between the Crusaders and Highlanders grew annoyed at the constant breaks in play as referee Garratt Williamson sought further help from his television assistant.

Crusaders prop Owen Franks was yellow carded for striking Highlanders loose forward Jarrad Hoeata thanks to footage on the big screen, but only after the right camera view was eventually shown following several inconclusive replays.

Boos rang out in the second half as Williamson stopped play time and again.

The match lasted 94 minutes - the first half alone took a tick under 50 minutes, although Andy Ellis' head injury was partly responsible for that over-run.

One of the longest games of the season was the Blues-Highlanders encounter at Eden Park on April 5, a match which lasted 98 minutes as referee Steve Walsh insisted on checking the lead-up to virtually all of the six tries and an instance of foul play by Ma'a Nonu on former teammate Piri Weepu.

Walsh was later ticked off for not following correct TMO protocol. The head injury to Highlander Buxton Popoali'i, however, also led to a lengthy hold-up.

In Christchurch many among the relatively big crowd were left cold not only by the freezing easterly wind but also their team's 24-8 victory.

It was a match which never got going, thanks in part to the constant intervention by Williamson, and halfback Ellis, who quickly returned to the field after his head knock, could empathise.

"It is frustrating," he said of the referees' delays. "In saying that, it's good because you're getting the right calls - most of the time. It's frustrating because you end up standing around for a few minutes and it does break the game up a bit but I don't want to bag it because ... although we haven't had that many [positive decisions] yet I'm sure our time will come where a forward pass has been thrown and we get the call."

One alternative school of thought, subscribed to by at least one influential figure within New Zealand rugby, is that instead of putting all of the onus on the referee to ensure the lead-up to a try is infringement-free, more power could be given to the coaches - a bit like in cricket's referral system where players can appeal decisions by the umpire.

In cricket's case, players get two referrals per innings and lose them if they fail to get a decision overturned. In rugby, the alternative thinking suggests, coaches, who have access to television monitors, could get two referrals per half along similar lines.

IRB boss Brett Gosper does not believe TMOs are adding significant time to matches.

"The research and the studies that we've done on it from the trial [show] it actually hasn't taken an enormous amount of time ... and certainly from a public point of view the fairness trade-off was worth taking."

A New Zealand Rugby Union spokeswoman said the feedback on the added TMO involvement was overwhelmingly positive.

Television viewers have an immediate advantage, however, as they can see and hear the issues being discussed. Spectators are increasingly being left in the dark - and cold.

By the minutes

98 The running time for the Blues-Highlanders game at Eden Park on April 5.
94 Running time for the Crusaders-Highlanders game in Christchurch last Saturday night.

50 The length of the first half of the same game, albeit with an injury delay included.

80 The time a game is supposed to last.


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