Paul Lewis on sport
Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: TMO system is a talking slug

Too much time is wasted in Super Rugby waiting for TMO decisions. Photo / Getty Images
Too much time is wasted in Super Rugby waiting for TMO decisions. Photo / Getty Images

In Monty Python's still-brilliant comic masterpiece - the dead parrot sketch - the complainant arrives back at the pet shop where he purchased a parrot sold as a Norwegian Blue (there being a lot of parrots in Norway ...).

He maintains that the bird is dead and the only reason it hadn't fallen off its perch earlier was because the proprietor had nailed it there.

"Well, of course it was nailed there. If I hadn't nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent 'em apart with its beak, and VOOM!" said the shopkeeper."

"VOOM? Mate, this bird wouldn't 'voom' if you put four million volts through it!"

What we saw in Super Rugby last weekend makes me think that the game's TMO system wouldn't 'voom' either, even with four million volts.

Ally that to the interminable nonsense that surrounds putting down a scrum - and it really is time to do something about the boring time-wasting that occurs in rugby.

I have now changed my mind about the whole TMO thing. Please, please, give the sole decision-making power back to the ref, warts and all.

I used to argue it was better to have a delayed game than an incorrect judgement and an unjust result. Don't feel that way any more.

By the time you get past the excruciating hold-ups for re-set scrums and TMO reviews, you can, believe me, lose the will to live.

The worst examples came in the Chiefs match against the Stormers and in that weird game between the Blues and Lions. In the Chiefs match, replacement Tevita Kolomatangi scored a try after he wasn't held in the tackle and part-scrambled, part-ran to the line, taking a defender or two with him. At the instruction of referee Craig Joubert (still one of the best around), TMO Ben Skeen went on and on ... and on ... reviewing whether Kolomatangi had been held in the tackle and then got up - potentially gifting a penalty to the defending Stormers.

The whole referral was completely unnecessary. Even in real-time, it was clear Kolomatangi was not held.

Here is a list of things that could have happened in the time it took to approve the try:

Kim Dotcom slimmed down to a mere 130kg.

Fox Glacier moved 20 metres.

The Labour Party became an effective Opposition.

Even worse was the awarding of a try to Lions fullback Coenie van Wyk against the Blues, a definitive score given the 39-36 scoreline, since admitted as wrong by refs boss Lyndon Bray.

Referee Stuart Berry asked the TMO - a fellow South African - to check whether the final pass had gone forward and then whether the try-scorer had lost the ball forward in the tackle.

If you thought the Kolomatangi decision took a while, this took an era; the Cretaceous period was a mere 80 million years in comparison.

First, the pass was clearly forward although the TMO's verdict was that it was not possible to tell.

The tackler's hand was then judged to have dislodged the ball; a finding negated by Bray and which ultimately cost the Blues the game (though many might say they didn't deserve it anyway).

If Berry had been the sole judge, he would almost certainly have ruled a knock-on. More proof of a sick system? Bulls front rower Marcel van der Merwe earned his team a bonus point in the Bulls win over the Blues the week before after an obvious double movement. So we now have a video system focused on getting the right result which increasingly comes up with the wrong answer. I do not know how this can be.

We have also grown a generation of referees who automatically seek refuge in the video review; they appear to have lost independence of thought. Surely the original intention was a fail-safe, not a default.

Returning power to the ref - errors and all - is far preferable to inaccuracy plus tedium.

As for scrums, even the new rules do not prevent endless collapses and re-sets. Scrums, previously a battle royal and one of rugby's unique contests, have become a plague; a weapon of confusion for crafty front-rowers. In seeking a battle for possession, the lawmakers have effectively allowed it to slow the game down past the point of reasonableness. Their only answer is for refs to penalise offenders (otherwise known as guessing ... ).

Surely it is time to use the scrum more as a re-start, as opposed to a contest. Allow the hookers to strike, as used to occur. But dilute the power play so the scrum is more stable and less intrusive in terms of wasting everybody's time. If that means no pushing, then so be it. Maybe one power scrum could be permitted but, if it collapses, revert to de-powered scrums.

No one wants league scrums, which are more like group hugs or a Roman orgy. But faster resolution of scrums is needed so the ball is in play more. It isn't working, it slows the game down and it is just plain ... boring.

In the Monty Python sketch, the aggrieved Norwegian Blue owner is mollified by the replacement of his ex-parrot with a talking slug. Let's hope rugby comes up with a better solution. Please.

- Herald on Sunday

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