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Video saves the rugby stars

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Tom Fordyce | 08:46 UK time, Monday, 20 September 2010

A quick rugby quiz question for you - which man had a decisive say in the result of the last World Cup final, the Lions v South Africa series in 2009 and the Heineken Cup final of 2004?

If you said the video ref, or television match official, give yourself an extra biscuit to go with your mid-morning cuppa.

It might sound a little disingenuous, but cast your mind back - Mark Cueto's 'try' in the corner, ruled out by Stuart Dickinson after almost three minutes of sifting through replays; Jaque Fourie's late try for the Springboks in the key second Test, awarded by Dickinson after ruling that Mike Phillips' tackle had not taken the centre into touch; Rob Howley's larceny on the dawdling Clement Poitrenaud, only awarded by Alain Rolland after recourse to Alan Lewis and his monitor upstairs.

All of which explains why I decided to watch this weekend's Wasps v Leicester clash from the dark confines of Sky TV's broadcast truck in the Adams Park concourse, rather than the usual spot in the main stand.

Seated at the back is 59-year-old Geoff Warren, one of the most experienced TMOs on the planet. "My usual heart-rate is between 45-50 bpm, but when a big decision comes in, you watch - it'll leap to 120," he grins.

At his disposal, several vital tools: a large TV monitor, controlled by Sky's broadcast director; a pair of headphones with mic attached, connecting him to on-pitch referee Wayne Barnes; a stopwatch, to provide back-up to the clock in the stadium; a copy of the laws of rugby ("Just in case..."), a bottle of water, and a large pack of Werther's Original, the latter presumably in case any of his decisions leave a bad taste in the mouth.

Matches can of course pass by without any recourse to the TMO. Not this one. With just 10 minutes gone, Leicester's Thomas Waldrom crashes towards the line, reaches out a chunky arm as the Wasps' defence envelops him and jams the ball down somewhere very close to try-line and post.

Warren is already leaning so close to the screen that his nose is almost touching. Has Waldrom scored, or has he been held up short? Referee Barnes, unsighted and unsure, makes a 'T' shape with his hands, and the question comes through.

One replay, from behind the player, crosses the screen. "Geoff!" yells the director. "Are you happy with that, or do you want another angle?"

"Another angle please," shouts Geoff, eyes never leaving the screen. Up pops a view of the incident from the dead-ball line. You can clearly see that Waldrom has grounded the ball short of the line, but against the post. Is that a try, you think desperately - how high on the post was the ball...

"Yup!" shouts Geoff. "No try!" He flicks a switch to open up his mic. "Wayne? It's no try."

On another screen, showing the main TV feed, you can see Barnes nod, blow his whistle and get the game back under way. The whole process has taken less than 30 seconds.

"I could see straight away that it wasn't a try," Geoff whispers to me in his West Country burr. "But with one of those technical ones, you always want to double-check."

For those unfamiliar with the finer points of rugby law, the try was turned down because the ball hit the posts a good foot up. For the try to be awarded - the posts count as part of the line - the ball would have to have touched their base.

Geoff, veteran of almost 300 top-flight games as a referee before he became a TMO, is delighted. "That's why I'm a fan of the system - it means we can get 99.9% of decisions correct. That's what everyone wants. And there's a lot of money riding on rugby now."

Money, national pride and history. In the 10 years since the TMO made his global bow, after being trialled in the Super 12 (note for future quiz reference: the first international TMO decision was by controversial Kiwi Steve Walsh, awarding a try to All Blacks skipper Todd Blackadder) it has proved pivotal time and time again.

Warren's own biggest call came in the last minute of extra time in the Gloucester v Bath Powergen Cup semi-final of 2005, confirming Andy Williams had touched down a kick-and-chase to send Bath to Twickenham.

There have been bigger. Of the examples above, the Howley one was relatively straightforward; a single replay from behind the try-line was enough to see that the scrum-half had grounded the ball. The Fourie one was much tougher, with both French referee Christophe Berdos and his touch-judge completely unsure until Dickinson's (almost certainly correct) intervention.

And Cueto's non-try, which would have made it 8-9 just into the second half with a Jonny Wilkinson conversion to follow? At the time, watching from the stands in the Stade de France, I was convinced Danie Rossouw had failed to put the winger into touch. Then again, I had Ben Dirs jumping all over me.

The less-biased referee Rolland asked Dickinson a very slight variation on one of the set questions TMOs are allowed. "Can you just confirm if there is any reason why I cannot give a try please?"

It was something of a hospital pass. It took until the fifth replay, almost three minutes in, for Dickinson to come up with a verdict.

Mark Cueto prepares to touch the ball down but his try is ruled out

England's Mark Cueto dives over for the disallowed try in the 2007 World Cup final. Pic: Getty

Watching it again this weekend, I'm still half-convinced Cueto scored. Are there times when a TMO just can't see enough?

"The director will give you the best angle he's got, but you can ask for one in particular," explains Warren.

"Some of the decisions can be very difficult. Sometimes you can't see clearly, so then it depends on the question you're asked by the ref.

"If he says, 'Is it a try - yes or no?' that gives me the option to look at anything. If he says, 'Is there any reason why I can't award a try?' I have to be able to see that reason. If all the replays are inconclusive, I will say to him, 'I can't see any reason not to award it.'"

What if the video replay fails, and he's left with a blank screen? "In the eight years and
200 games I've been doing it, it's never happened." And if the radio link with the referee on the pitch goes kaput? "I'm given a mobile phone for the match. I use that to call the fourth official pitch-side. I tell him my decision, and he runs onto the pitch to pass it on to the ref."

While Wasps and Leicester produce one of the games of the season so far, Warren's afternoon is a busy one. Just before half-time, Martin Castrogiovanni rumbles through the hosts' defence and feeds Tom Croft, who stretches out to slam the ball down over the try-line at pace.

Did he touch it down cleanly, or was there a bounce there? Geoff is waiting, eyes wide, poised - but Barnes goes straight for his whistle to award the try.

"Geoff! Was it a try?" yells the Sky director.

"Yep! Yep!"

"Did it bounce?"

"Nope. Definitely a try."

Replays confirm the verdict of Barnes and Warren. Had the man in the middle got that wrong, Warren would have been powerless. "I can only intervene if he asks me a question. Otherwise I have to stay silent."

Midway through the second half, Tom Rees barrels towards the line and is hit with a monstrous tackle that appears to dislodge the ball before he can ground it. Warren is ready as Barnes's voice comes through his headphones.

"Geoff. Wayne here. Did he ground the ball. Secondly, in the act of scoring was there foul play that could have stopped the try?"

Warren needs just one replay, "Wayne. Geoff. I'm not going to award the try. No score."

The TV director wants to be certain. "Geoff! Was the tackler high by Blue (Croft)?"

"No. No no. Wayne, in answer to the second question, I don't believe there was any foul play. Knock on, scrum five defending team."

Barnes nods. "So I'm going to go back to the original decision." "Yes."

A moment later, the game under way again, Sky's expert summariser Stuart Barnes comes over the TV commentary. "I think Wayne Barnes is the best referee on the planet."

Geoff leans back, pops a Werther's Original in his mouth and allows himself a little smile.


  • Comment number 1.


    Excellent article - and proof that if used correctly technology CAN work (football take heed!)

    As an aside - do you have any roadtrip plans to cover the Rugby World Cup next year - your blogs etc with Ben are always a pleasure.


  • Comment number 2.

    Quality blog, can you please send to Mr Platini et al. It works so well in rugby and cricket, needs to be adopted across the board

  • Comment number 3.

    Great Blog!
    I dont know if this exact system would work in soccer. The referee has to ask the video ref otherwise the video ref is powerless. Soccer would need more of a tennis approach with 3 challenges for the system to work.

  • Comment number 4.

    Great insight into a system that WORKS! Why oh why it isn't used in football I really don't know.

    Fully agree with Stuart Barnes' comments...

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Tom

    Interesting article - I still think something similar should be introduced for football (but that's a whole other discussion!). I happened to be watching when the final incident occurred. What Barnes said was that Waynes Barnes the best referee on the planet at the moment, 'but he got that one wrong'. The comment was about going back to the original offside, not the knock-on, by the way.

  • Comment number 6.

    It works well for cricket & rugby because both games are for less continuous than football. I'm a traditionalist, I don't buy into this notion that "Oh, there's so much money at stake you *must*...", and I don't want a football match stopped for 3 minutes while the TMO tries to work out what the correct decision is. I accept that it is part of the game of football that the officials make mistakes sometimes, for whatever reason (the players make enough - why does everyone expect the refs to be perfect?!). Sometimes those mistakes go against my team; somtimes they go for my team; that's one of the beauties of The Beautiful Game!

    What I would like to see, and I think it's criminal that no such system has been introduced, is some form of after-match review. Whether it's on a matter of course basis for every top level game, or a rugby-style citing system, I don't care, but I guarantee you, 4 weeks into a new season and the divers would stop diving if they were being given 1, 2, 3 or more post-match yellow cards every game, the cheats would stop cheating. They would have to. Simple as that.

  • Comment number 7.

    Didn't know you were a fan of the Pests Tom. Nice blog.

    I too hope you and Dirs are back on the road for the World Cup - that is if Dirs stops being so pessimistic bout the way Union is going.

    Might take some time to get the bloggernaut over there though.

  • Comment number 8.

    It's all very well having a system like this in rugby and cricket because there are natural breaks in play when a decision must be made, unlike football.
    Also, in club rugby there's only a TMO at televised games, so there's a two-tier system.

  • Comment number 9.

    to #8

    So every time a goal is scored in a football match, you're saying there's no break? (funny, I always see a bunch of blokes running to the corner flag, celebrating & hugging each other, before slowly returning to the centre-spot for the restart - easily enough time for a TMO review)

    Free kicks, throw-ins, offsides, penalties - there's plenty of 'natural' breaks in football (otherwise there would be zero extra time added on) , but nobody in FIFA wants the hassle (that means expense) of TMO's & TV replays (well, until a decision goes badly against them e.g. England WC2010, then everyone's calling for it!!!)

  • Comment number 10.

    really enjoyed reading this article as a 17 year old rugby player and fan, really great, would love to read more articles like this.
    good job

  • Comment number 11.

    to #9
    Unless I've been watching a different sport than you, there is not normally a break in play at the point a decision is required during which a review can happen, unless the referee has decided that there is a reason for which there should be a break, in which case he's already made up his mind.
    When exactly was the break in play during the England-Germany game at the World Cup during which a referral to a TMO over Lampard's 'goal' would have happened? I don't remember there being one.
    Come to think of it, it must be a different sport. After all, extra time is not added for free kicks, corners or penalties, only for things like substitutions and injuries.
    And FIFA's opposition to the introduction of technology is not on grounds of expense, but because they believe that the laws of the game should be the same at all levels.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good article. See...Rugby League has lots of good ideas !!

  • Comment number 13.

  • Comment number 14.

    Interesting article. One question. Is not the post and padding part of the in-goal area so a ball placed there by an attacking player is a try?

  • Comment number 15.

    AHK - I'll have to ask the bosses about the World Cup with Dirsy. Fingers crossed. What a trip that'll be...

    Frosty76 - Sepp Blatter wouldn't spot a good idea if it bit him on his suited backside, I fear

    foxtrot_charlie - that's the thing - it does work, doesn't it?

    dartfordorn - ah, good spot. Cheers

    Raedwulf - yup, agree with you on that

    Hey hey Hookers - what if we set sail as soon as the Six Nations is done? Imagine how good we'd get at quoits

    BUDGE - cheers, glad you enjoyed it. You might like this one too:

    PieNtries - doesn't it just...

  • Comment number 16.

    I enjoyed the article though I feel I have to point out that the final time the TMO was used in that much it was for the Wasps captain going over the line and being tackled by Matt Smith rather than Croft going over for the Tigers. This is definitely when Stuart Barnes said that other Barnes was the best ref in the world.
    Also at doublep, no the front of the padding is in front of the line as the actual post is on the line so the padding is in front of the line and not part of in goal area. It only counts as a try if the player grounds it on the base of the padding.

  • Comment number 17.

    good blog except for the fact that the incident in the second half refered to was Tom Rees trying to score and Tom Croft making the high tackle (perhaps should have refered the blog to the TMO first :-) )

  • Comment number 18.

    Chris George, neilpr - thanks chaps. That's why I'll never make it as a ref..

  • Comment number 19.

    Utter rubbish.

    I have lost count of the amount of times that the TMO has got the decision completely wrong in both Rugby Union and Rugby League. Knock-ons, forward passes, infringements are too often missed by a man with replays from multiple angles who should get the decision right.

    The 2007 World Cup final is a prime example. The referee asked if there was any reason he could not award a try. The TMO could not prove categorically that Cueto was in touch when he grounded the ball, even now it cannot be proven therefore the TMO should not have disallowed the try. Disallowing that try very likely cost England the opportunity to win the World Cup. A massive decision to get wrong.

    Often the referee goes to the TMO when it is completely unnecessary. The last time I experienced this was merely two weeks ago when the ball had clearly been grounded, everyone could see it, the touch judge could see it, the ref could see it yet we wasted five minutes waiting for the decision to be made, then the player taking the conversion was delayed another minute whilst we waited for the message that the try had been awarded to be displayed on the video screen in the ground. Pathetic.

  • Comment number 20.

    Good article Tom, couple of thoughts / comments as to why I'm not in favour of techology such as this in sport.

    I agree that for some officials the TMO has made them almost scared to make a decision either way. It has become too easy to refer the decision 'upstairs' (maybe that should be 'outside') which devalues the system in my mind.

    Rugby managed for decades without technology and the basis for this was that the referee's decision was final and the players accepted this. By bringing in a further source then you potentially give the players a route to contest (not something that I have seen in rugby yet, but something I really hope doesn't materialise).

    Technology works for matter of fact (ie in football, was the ball over the goaline ?). As soon as you bring in human intervention, ie a TMO, then human error comes into play. Match Of the Day spend around 30% of their airtime debating referee decisions and it's not uncommon for the pundits to disagree with the same information.

    Call me old fashioned, but I prefer the old system of the referee and his assistants making a decision and the players (and fans) accepting it. My abiding memory of the 2007 World Cup Final was that the best team on the day (and in the tournament) won and not that we were 'cheated' or 'robbed'. That to my mind would be churlish and used as an excuse to hide the fact we were beaten by a better team............a bit like the football team in South Africa this year.....

  • Comment number 21.

    Have to say I agree with Alliterative Hornet.

    In rugby the TMO is only called in once the ball and player(s) have gone over the try line, i.e. when play stops naturally. Hence there is no problem.
    In football, at what point is the ref supposed to ask for goal-line technology? After a goal has been scored? Or after a goal might have been scored but the action was unseen by the 3 officials, in which case why would the ref ask for anything? Whenever a player falls down in the penalty area? Whenever someone looks offside? It's unworkable.

    To Bob, # 19:
    The problem is not TMOs getting the decision "completely wrong" - I've watched hundreds of games and very rarely seen a wrong decision.
    The problem is what they're asked to do, which is to study the evidence in the in-goal. There could be countless infringements that occur prior to the ball/player entering the in-goal, but it is not the TMO's job to look at that.

    I would personally like to see the TMO's role qualified somewhat: the questions asked by the ref should either be expanded to include all sorts of questions relating to the play, or reduced to just one simple question: try or no try?

  • Comment number 22.

    Whilst the concept of the TMO is a great idea, there have been some particularly controversial decisions, having been in the ground during the 2nd test at loftus, it was very disappointing to see Jaque Fourie try given, it is inconceivable that he cannot have been in touch when the ball was grounded.

  • Comment number 23.

    Couldn't help yourself could you? "controversial Kiwi Steve Walsh...awards a try to Kiwi captain Todd Blackadder" , a reference to Wayne Barnes being the "best ref on the planet" and a re-hash of the Cueto non try "controversy".


    It's like drunk O'clock on 606. Are you sure you're not EnglandWorldBeater's alter ego?

  • Comment number 24.

    Hermmy, a couple of seasons ago there was an experiment in the South African domestic competition, the Currie Cup, where the video referee was allowed to pass judgement on the whole play leading up to the try. It was quickly dropped because the process took so long going back over every pass, breakdown and close encounter with the touchline in a piece of play that could last over ten phases. And that's before they checked to see if the ball had been grounded properly!

    I remember the great welsh referee of the eighties, Clive Norling. When there was a forward rumble over the line he would tell everyone to stand up one by one until he could see who had their hands on the ball and whether it was over the line or not (and then listening to dear old Bill McClaren waxing lyrical about how the referee was doing such a good job)

    The other factor that no one has mentioned is the added drama that is added to a really close call when waiting for the decision to come. I remember watching the RWC final in 07 and being on the edge of my seat (Nottm-Spur is right, the decision didn't alter the fact that the best team won on the day).

    Whether you agree with the use of technology or not, I don't think anyone can disagree that the use of it is alot fairer to the competitors. For the teams or individuals who have trained all their lives to reach the top levels of sport I think it is only fair that all is done to ensure that wrong decisions are not made. After the football world cup, Sep Blatter made a whole raft of excuses about why football could not use video technology, but none of them seem to have affected the other sports they are used in. If a football comes off the underside of the bar, it happens so quickly in real time that human error is inevitable. If a break in play is the issue then it would surely be possible to have a microchip in the ball to detect if it is over the line or not (similar to the system in ice hockey where a hooter goes off if a goal has been scored). It seems to be alot of excuses from a reluctant organisation that enjoys controversy.

  • Comment number 25.

    Extending the remit of TMOs to be a ble to answer the more open question of 'Try or no try?' makes sense as it would pick up infingements prior to the touchdown - forward passes, obstruction, etc. The problem is where do you draw the line? How far back in play do you allow the TMO to intercede? Would you extend juristiction to include the 22 metre area? Or possibly everything since the last set piece (which could be a very long time and incorporate multiple phases by both teams!) or do you say 10 seconds prior to dead ball? Tricky isn't it? Happy to listen to any proposals on how to increase accuracy without taking too much time. . ?

  • Comment number 26.

    To Tom Rowlands and BlueNose

    I would suggest the TMO should view all play since the last phase.
    Last set piece would be ludicrous I agree, and a time limit of say 10 seconds would possibly be unfair to one of the teams.

    Last phase makes sense because (a) the referee and TJs can quite rightly be expected to make all calls up till that last phase (they do already), (b) a phase very rarely lasts more than a handful of seconds, and (c) the TV production teams always display the number of phases on the screen, so the starting point for the TMO to start studying the video is very clear cut.

    This would allow TMOs to judge any kind of try decision, ranging from the forwards falling in a heap on the tryline to a 60 metre break from a winger that might just have come from a forward pass. As I say, the TMO would be studying 6 - 10 second at most.

  • Comment number 27.

    re cueto try. The error here was not was it a try or not. It didn't matter since they were playing under penalty advantage. Therefore the decision should have been - as evidenced by the closeness of the actual event - try ineveitable therefore a penalty try awarded with a virtually guaranteed conversion. Alain Rolland got it completely wrong. Given these circumstances he should never even have bothered to ask the TMO - or arguably let play continue at all. This was his big misjudgement.

  • Comment number 28.

    Good article - It does raise another point. The "was his foot in touch" option is I feel overused. The law is there to stop wingers from gaining an advantage by running outside the white line - but now it seems to be used primarily to deny a perfectly good try. The defender, who has no chance of stopping his man, manages to pull his foot outside the line, and somehow that is "good defending" and invalidates the try.
    For the record - Scottish and never a winger.

  • Comment number 29.

    I believe that some posters here are missing the point when it comes to whether or not the video referee should be employed in soccer. Of course it sometimes takes a long time to reach decisions in rugby, there are generally more factors to take into consideration when coming to the decision try or NO try - for example, foot into touch?; bodies obscuring views; etc. In soccer, however, the video referee (if employed) would only have to decide whether the ball had gone over the goaline or not to decide if a goal had been scored - not too difficult is it! Although there is another obvious area where the video could be useful: the referee could ask: "Is there any reason why I cannot award a penalty", when a player falls to the ground in the penalty area. But once again, video evidence should leave little doubt as to what is the correct decision.

    Or am I missing the point?

  • Comment number 30.

    You're exactly right BucksWelsh. Also, when players know they are being watched I'd expect there to be a lot less 'cheating' etc to deal with anyway.

  • Comment number 31.

    Thanks to you Tom,
    I finally found it within me to just drop and stop using BBC. Oh and in case you're wondering its about your latest India blog ( Quite conveniently I must add, the comments section was closed off - when most readers could find nothing but disgust at your presentation.

    But anyways I'm off - and really wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for "fair and balanced" reporting. HA!

  • Comment number 32.

    Quite a cowardly move by Tom and the BBC to close the other blog entry (on India's Commonwealth Games) to comments. Apparently you can make criticisms but you can't take them quite as easily.

    Now if you're excuse me, I have to go write a blog post on the Ryder Cup. The latter half of piece will be devoted to how the UK is a second rate power that is only relevant on the global stage because it has a UN Security Council seat and speaks English. I will question why the UK should host sporting events when it is a drab and dreary land of industrial decay, mired in a deep recession, with half its population on the dole. You know, basically just hitting all the obvious points that should be discussed in any Ryder Cup commentary.

    What a joke.

  • Comment number 33.

    Informative article. Pity the comment from Barnes on Barnes - best referee in the world? Yes, Stuart. Of course he is. That's why he ruins any game he's officiating in. I think because he's relatively young he tries too hard and defaults to barrister mode.

    All referees make mistakes, so they rely on the touch judges - sorry, "assistant referees" (why copy anything from football?) - to help them. It's a pity they don't pick up blatantly obviously infringements right under their noses, such as punches, stamping and the less dangerous forward pass. Any help TMO's can give can only be useful.

  • Comment number 34.

    Dear TOM,

    I wish there was some good news form BBC which had enforce me to register with .. but the credit goes to your writing skills Sire !

    After reading your post on Delhi CWG (, I want to know if its the Journalism of the entire UK (or world) is touching new low - or you guys are specifically hired by BBC (or any other agency) to write such cheap things .... (to get multi millions clicks ????)

    So what are you planning for your post BBC days ...

    BTW, if you still like writing, pls write ur opinion on this story ...

    Bon Voyage !!!!!

  • Comment number 35.

    "Let's go upstairs!" If only referees in my era had had this facility careers would've been saved (mine included!)and prolonged! So hand on heart I officially apologise to ALL Newbridge RFC supporters circa 1989 (?) and to Dai Rees and Hemi Taylor in particular for stopping Richard Webster from grounding the ball over the try line (scoreboard end St Helens, Swansea)To have had the luxury of asking a third pair of eyes "Did Webby ground the ball?" the resulting answer would have changed the course of the game completely. The ball was "grounded on Rees's chest! Not even my touch judge (Dave Saunders) was allowed to "nod yes/no".........the game has come far since then....I don't know for the better, but that's for another time. To Brian Wellington et al, please accept this apology....not that it's festered with me for a decade and more....Chris Jones (very ex WRU referee..........)

  • Comment number 36.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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