Referees risk wrath with video expansion
If the wild excitement at Lord's during the final session of the England-South Africa Test series was enough to persuade the most myopic of rugby administrators that the union code might learn a thing or two from the great summer game, there was some concern at yesterday's Premiership launch that an imminent expansion of television decision-making, a la cricket, might backfire. Even those overseeing the new policy on video replay technology seemed less than convinced the sport was on the right track.
When English rugby's major domestic club competition begins in 10 days, television match officials will have a far wider brief. As well as adjudicating on the successful completion of a try, the TMO may be asked by the referee to make a call on possible infringements – knock-ons, forward passes, obstructions, off-sides – occurring at any stage of the attack, stretching right back to the scrum or line-out that set it in motion. He will also be permitted to intervene if he feels a serious act of foul play has been committed.
Although there will be no formal system of player referral, it does not require a rugby genius of Carwyn James's stature to work out that referees will be put under serious pressure by vociferous appeals urging him to "go upstairs" before making a major decision. If he rejects those appeals and the television footage subsequently proves him wrong, there will be hell to pay.
"There is no foolproof system, so our officials will have to be strong," admitted Ed Morrison, the governing body's head of professional referee development. "We don't want games lasting four hours so we hope this is used sparingly and sensibly, but at the same time, it's obvious that players will appeal to referees, who inhabit a lonely place at the best of times and will now come under a different kind of pressure. We think this expansion might have some value, so we've agreed to a season-long trial and we'll see how it goes."
Meanwhile, the London Welsh head coach Lyn Jones confirmed that Gavin Henson will play at outside-half for the promoted club. "He's spent three or four years fannying around and not taking his rugby seriously," Jones said with characteristic candour, "but he tells me he wants to fulfil his potential."
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