Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul: IRB should show vision on TMO

The TMO may have had a different view of this incident last year. Photo / Getty Images
The TMO may have had a different view of this incident last year. Photo / Getty Images

The IRB has been notoriously reluctant to grant commonsense victories in the past.

But later next year, when the decision has to be made whether to adopt the extended powers of the TMO into law, surely the white gloves will be on and the initiative waved through to the rule book.

There were legitimate fears the game would be turned to farce by allowing the referee to ask the TMO to scroll back two previous phases of play prior to a try being scored. There was also some trepidation in allowing the TMO to advise the referee of possible foul play.

Eight weeks into the season and who would want to go back to the old ways? The IRB have trialled numerous laws over the past five years with mostly disappointing results. They've never had instant and obvious success ... until now.

The modern game moves at incredible speed. It is, without the luxury of a widescreen and constant replays, remarkably easy for referees and their assistants to miss all manner of things.

They have priorities to watch for - offside, sealing off, correct engagement and binding. Get those right and the game usually flows. But focusing on the core elements leaves referees exposed to missing detail: a forward pass, a slight knock-on or a sly punch. The TMO is the safety net and already the trial laws have had a positive effect.

Kieran Read scored what seemed a perfectly good try against the Hurricanes in round two. It would have seen the visitors home and hosed, except the replay showed he'd knocked on while picking up at the base of the ruck. The Chiefs were denied against the Blues for stealing turnover ball illegally and Ma'a Nonu copped a yellow card after replays of his illegal challenge on Piri Weepu.

Doubters say that the extended TMO trail is a licence for referees to opt out; to let the fourth official take responsibility for running the game. That's nonsense.

The referee still has to referee, manage and control the game. The TMO simply ensures human error is not the deciding factor as it has been many times in the past. How might history have been different had Craig Joubert been able to go to the TMO in Brisbane last year after Scott Higginbotham kneed and head-butted Richie McCaw. A penalty to Australia would most likely have been a red card after consultation.

Wales may have been celebrating their first win against the All Blacks in more than 50 years had the powers existed last November. Andrew Hore would have been sent off in the first minute of that Cardiff test. Could the All Blacks have survived with 14 men for the next 79?

The global trial runs until May next year - at which point the IRB will have to decide whether to keep it for the World Cup or not. There is a moratorium on rule changes a year out from the tournament.

How many times in previous tournaments have dubious refereeing decisions influenced the outcome? There was David Campese's seemingly deliberate yet unpunished knock-on in the 1991 final. There was the Abdel Benazzi try that never was in the 1995 semifinal. There was, apparently, a forward pass of some importance in the 2007 quarter-final between New Zealand and France and a red card for Welsh captain Sam Warburton in the semifinal in 2011 that may have been yellow had video been available.

Too often, big contests have been marred by controversy, making the IRB's decision later next year relatively straightforward.

- Herald on Sunday

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Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer. He has written several books on rugby including the Reign of King Henry, Black Obsession and For the Love of the Game.

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