It is funny how rugby is still viewed as a game packed with tradition. Yet while football manages to string out the surely unarguable need for goalline technology, we rugby types continue to blaze a British trail of gadget-laden glory.
Arrive at Twickenham and you can pay a few quid to hear every word the referee says, not only allowing you to understand instantly a faraway decision but, probably more interestingly, to hear what nearby players are muttering – even if some language may not be for the faint-hearted.
Then comes our own version of Hawk-Eye. Admittedly, the recent Television Match Official (TMO) trials have not been universally successful – with Saints' coach Jim Mallinder even complaining when it was NOT used yesterday – but the fact that the gentleman's game is willing to invest in such ventures ought to reassure every punter that the folk in charge are up for it. Players' jerseys are now made with a small slot behind the neck to accommodate GPS units small enough not to impede performance but useful enough to monitor every metre that player runs or, in some cases, walks. Every impact is measured by proxy and, when you combine this information with that provided by a heart-rate monitor, you have a scientific version of effort versus achievement.
All quite staggering, really, and I miss none of it. Monday mornings spent scrambling for excuses for not reaching maximum speed even once during a match became tiring.
And now we have the Refcam, a chest-mounted camera that will give us a referee's-eye view of the professional game. This weekend saw its first trial and, if this and further trials are successful, it looks set to offer us yet further insight.
There will undoubtedly be those who detest all this jiggery-pokery (and, I must say, I still feel a bit fuddy-duddy about Saracens's new plastic pitch. I'll get over it). But the game can only remain apologetic for so long. To the uninitiated, it must seem terribly complex and, in part, frankly invisible. I can still watch breakdowns and not have a clue what has gone on.
So all of these broadcasting innovations do more than simply heighten the interest of the converted; they serve to translate what, to many, must look like a foreign language. Images from this new camera are likely to be visceral in the extreme. If they are also capable of transmitting sound, then what we experience could be stunning in its intensity.
One issue that may present itself has to do with mums sitting at home watching the game. As a player, one visits hundreds of schools full of kids and does hundreds of question-and-answer sessions. However, there are only ever four questions. How much money do you get? How many girlfriends have you got? What car do you drive? What's the worst injury you've ever had?
The answers to the first three are simple: not enough; not enough; and a mountain bike. However, we do not want the kids running home to tell mummy about how many shoulder reconstructions or Achilles infections Mr Superstar had experienced. That is a long way from where parents want kids to end up. So we brush over it, and get the kids quickly back to girlfriends and clapped-out motorcars.
But this new camera has the potential to reveal the true viciousness of rugby. I do not mean foul play – though that will surely be scrutinised like never before – I mean the level of bone-on-bone impact a player suffers repeatedly during a match. Smaller men being poleaxed backwards out of breakdowns by front-five ogres will not look pretty as mummy looks across the sofa at her lovely little boy, all unscarred and unpoleaxed. For years I watched my mother wince as she watched close-ups of what the likes of Darren Garforth were doing to me on the ground. I thought it was the most fun a bloke could have, getting chinned by a childhood hero, but she felt differently.
So there is a balance to be struck. First the footage offered must be clear and instructive, and those deciding what we see on our screens must have a clear brief as to what makes the game look good, what explains its idiosyncrasies and what, frankly, rugby needs to keep to itself.Reuse content