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Why video refs need more powers

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Carl Hicks Carl Hicks | 17:28 UK time, Thursday, 9 November 2006

What did Sunday's international between England and New Zealand teach us?

I won't get into what Andy Robinson might have learned after a sixth defeat in a row, but in the wider perspective it reminded us all that the view of the Television Match Official, or video referee, is not always 20/20.

When referee Joel Jutge referred the decision upstairs and asked TMO Christophe Berdos if he could confirm that Jamie Noon had grounded the ball for an England try he apparently asked the wrong question.

He should, under the International Rugby Board's new edict, have asked: "Is there a reason why I shouldn't give a try?" - it's a subtle difference but a crucial one as England players and supporters will testify.

Despite four different angles; high, low, end-on and super-slo - there was not a shot that Berdos thought showed definitively that Noon had grounded the ball despite Ma'a Nonu's tackle.


Instinctively most people in the ground thought he had, but Berdos had to tell referee Jutge that the evidence was inconclusive and the try was not awarded.

To his credit Paddy O'Brien, the IRB's head of referees, didn't duck the issue - telling journalists the next day that the try should have been given - and would have been if the officials had got their language right.

Unfortunate yes, but interestingly this incident comes at the time when the IRB are seeking to increase the powers of the TMO for the future.

Last week in Lensbury, O'Brien led a conference attended by the sport's elite panel of 20 referees from around the world. High on the agenda was a proposal to increase the areas in which the match referee can ask for clarification from the 4th official situated in the host broadcaster's TV truck - as Berdos was last Sunday.

Currently the TMO can only adjudicate on grounding issues. The new edict would extend his sphere of influence to knock-ons, in-touch calls and possibly offside calls. Is this a good move?

I believe it is.

It seems absurd that all these people and kit are in place to make calls and yet his powers are artificially limited by protocol. How ridiculous would the sport look if the Six Nations Championship or next year's World Cup were decided by a try that millions watching around the globe AND a fourth official could see should not have been allowed.

The lesson of Sunday is that the TMO will never be a universal panacea - a judgement call is still often the only option for an official. But isn't it better for any sport that more of those judgement calls can be made correctly - and provide valuable assistance to the on-field officals?

**Thanks to an invite from O'Brien I attended the elite referees' conference for a day to speak from a TV producer's perspective about such things as the video referee.

It was an illuminating day.

The first impressive thing was to see the seriousness with which the sport's top officials from all over the globe dealt with aspects of the game's image as well as its governance.

We are very lucky as rugby fans that it's now commonplace for the referee to be miked-up allowing viewers and - via Ref Link - spectators in the ground to hear the officials' reasons for their decisions.

It also shows fans the respect that the officials still command from the players - any verbal abuse from players would also be audible to an audience of millions. The IRB do not take this respect lightly. The officials and the game's rulers know that what happens in Twickenham, Cardiff or Christchurch is what sets the example right down to the 'minis' on a Sunday morning.

After the conference the IRB issued another release to all international teams that officials would deal severely with players questioning or haranguing referees.

They feel standards of respect in this area have slipped in recent times. I got a perfect example of how precious this respect is for the men - and women - who carry out the ref's job that same evening when I switched on TV for the Barcelona v Chelsea European Cup (as I still call it) match.

Compulsive viewing in many ways, but the pressures exerted on officials and the levels of abuse tolerated certainly gave a context to what rugby union has to lose if current standards are allowed to slip.

Isn't it interesting that even last night Everton's James McFadden's defence was that he did not call referee Graham Poll a "f******* cheat", but that he said his decision was "f******* s***e" - Oh well that's OK then.

** Finally for my first post, we had some correspondence about the match coverage of both our games last weekend. In essence a few people complained that the coverage was too tight and the geography of the action was lost on the viewer.

My first point would be that this is a very subjective issue.

Football is - at it's simplest TV level a one-camera sport. Rugby is a two-camera sport - by this I mean that on many occasions the ball is static and the viewer needs to see the battle for its retention at close quarters.

The balance of that cut between tight and wide is a skilled and tricky one, and, as the game gets quicker and the ball kept alive for longer, a crucial one. There is an onus on directors to capture the power, pace and skills of the modern game.

Live action is king. No-one likes missing it - not the director, not me and not you - but it happens!

However what we're striving to do is fill the gaps imaginatively with replays, analysis, comment and capture the surrounding atmosphere of great sporting events.

It's an interesting stat that the ball is 'live' for less than half of the 80 minutes even in the most free-wheeling rugby union international (by contrast rugby league can reach 65-70 minutes).

That means we have more than 40 minutes to embellish the action. It's no longer good enough to sit back and wait for play to restart - we strive to energise these minutes.

Similarly in live coverage that balance between tight and wide is a key one. Rugby is a game that needs key geography in its coverage. Where is the overlap? Where are the covering defenders?

But also there is nothing better than seeing at close quarters the impact of a crunching tackle or great skills.

At times we all get it wrong. But at times you do feel that you can't win as praise and criticism arrive for the same thing. Oh well. As a football manager once said: "You lose some, you draw some".

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