I have never liked the TMO. I like it even less since Saturday. In an ideal world, we would still be relying on the referee as the sole arbiter of decisions on the field. Most were correct. A few were not. But I can barely recall an incident in 35 years of reporting at the sharp-end when there was uproar over what was ruled as right or wrong on the field of play by the referee himself.

Players got on with it. His (or, latterly, her) word was sacrosanct. If you didn't like it, you had a penalty against you or were marched back 10 yards. The ref was always right, even when he was wrong.

That brings us to one of the fallacies of video replay – that it takes controversy out of the equation. It doesn't necessarily, as events at Twickenham over the last fortnight have shown. The other myth is that technology is infallible. That, too, is wrong. Most of it the time it is right. Sometimes it isn't. There is no such thing as 100 per cent certainty about it. It can still leave the issue cloudy and open to interpretation. Again, the South Africa and New Zealand games illustrated the point.

Of course, we should not rewind the clock and not have the TMO. Every single person at Twickenham on Saturday would have had recourse to the big screen in the stadium, to smartphone social media reaction while hundreds of thousands at home would have had Sky Sports re-runs to (supposedly) prove a point. It would be impossible now to return to the old ways. There are too many other witnesses to the events.


One of the original impetuses to introduce technology in cricket and rugby was as a reaction to the howls that used to emerge from corporate hospitality boxes when punters had seen TV replays and come outside to let the impoverished masses know their feelings. (Yes, yes, perhaps we should have wiped out the prawn sandwich brigade back then when we had the chance and all this might have been avoided.)

The TMO, then, is here to stay. Fair enough. That is a good thing. A really good thing. But only if it is used correctly and proportionally. On Saturday it was not. It is entirely specious for World Rugby to claim that referee Jerome Garces was correct in the manner in which he used the system at Twickenham. It was almost as if they themselves had gone back to the time when an official's word was final. Don't argue. Don't quibble. Nothing to see here. Move on.

By their own re-issued protocol of last week, Garces was wrong to defer so much to Marius Jonker's interpretation. 'The referee must not be subservient to the system', read one of their edicts. Any call-back must be 'CLEAR and OBVIOUS'. World Rugby highlighted those two words themselves.

The governing body also argued that the weather was so poor at Twickenham on Saturday that Garces was within his rights to rely on the man watching in the dry from a TV truck. Please! Do me a favour. If players from both teams can produce high-end rugby from start to finish in such filthy conditions, handling, catching, running, the whole works, then Garces, a man who was only a metre or two from the original situation involving Courtney Lawes and TJ Perenara with an uninterrupted view, can just get on and make the call himself. Factor in, too, that the big screens at Twickenham are ultra-tech, sharper than anything most of us have in our living rooms.

Some argue that Lawes may only have been 6" offside (and even that is debatable) but 6" offside is still offside just as a one inch run-out in cricket is out. If we are to accept that line of argument, then the game is doomed. There are 50 such marginal calls in a game and even if the TMO can only intercede on tries (or foul play) the principle still holds. Let's blow for a 100 penalties a game them. Let's nit-pick over every little nuance in the build-up to a try.

Let's consider, too, what spectators want, really, really want as the Spice Girls zeitgeist would have it. Sam Underhill's score was a thrilling piece of action by any criteria, edge-of-the-seat stuff, brilliant in its execution, showing pace, awareness and trickery. Twickenham gasped at the possibility then roared at its denouement. It was vivid and vicarious, 80,000 willing him to the line. Only for some bloke in a truck to rule it out. Cold. Remote. Matter-of-fact. Is that what sport is all about?

Some good may yet come from all this, namely that the fuss and scrutiny will force World Rugby to take action behind closed doors in re-asserting what it wants to see from its officials. Its move to re-empower the ref, to emphasise his authority, was absolutely the right thing to do. It not only re-asserts the sanctity of the official in the middle, it also cuts out the faffing about while the TMO is consulted. Angus Gardner made his own mind up about the Owen Farrell incident the previous week. All power to him for that. (And I thought it was the wrong decision).

Let us get to a situation where the TMO is in use only as a back-stop to a glaring error or heinous foul play or unseen action in the course of scoring a try. That is what it was intended for, an essential asset but only as an adjunct to the action. On Saturday, it was centre stage. And that is wrong.