Television officials to keep watch over England campaign

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union yesterday sanctioned the use of video referees in England's programme of autumn internationals, a decision that should at least guarantee a few laughs. Far from rejecting the idea as a bad job following the farcical introduction of so-called "Television Match Officials" in South Africa during the summer - think back to Tim Stimpson in Pretoria and the penalty try that never was, or the score awarded to the Springboks' Mr Invisible in Bloemfontein - the great and good of Twickenham have opted to go with the flow.

The Rugby Football Union yesterday sanctioned the use of video referees in England's programme of autumn internationals, a decision that should at least guarantee a few laughs. Far from rejecting the idea as a bad job following the farcical introduction of so-called "Television Match Officials" in South Africa during the summer - think back to Tim Stimpson in Pretoria and the penalty try that never was, or the score awarded to the Springboks' Mr Invisible in Bloemfontein - the great and good of Twickenham have opted to go with the flow.

In keeping with the atmosphere of unadulterated farce surrounding fourth officials, Nick Bunting, the union's referee development officer, has released a set of guidelines that are only marginally less long-winded than Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. A random example: "The referee will blow time out and make the 'time out' T signal. The referee will make a 'square box' signal with his hands and at the same time inform the TMO through a two-way communication that advice is needed. The referee will then outline to the TMO the exact nature of the problem and the advice required. The TMO will repeat the referee's request to ensure the message is correct." Heaven help us all. At that rate of progress, the bars will have shut and the last train departed before the "TMO" even looks at the replay.

Extraordinarily, Clive Woodward, the England coach, was quoted as welcoming the initiative - quite a sea-change from the summer, when he would happily have had all video referees shot at dawn. Sadly, it has not yet occurred to rugby's committee class that the sheer numbers of players contesting possession in many try-scoring incidents makes the fourth official's task considerably more difficult than that of the first official, who can always back his instincts. But then, little of value occurs to those who insist on treating the game as a "product" rather than... well, a game.

Northampton, the European champions, have looked a very inferior product this season, thanks largely to the most debilitating injury list in the Premiership. Happily for Pat Lam's side, two international props are ready to return to the fray at Rotherham tomorrow: Mattie Stewart, the Scotland tight head, and, perhaps crucially, Garry Pagel, the former Springbok loose head. At Bath, the former England centre Jeremy Guscott has been ruled out for a month after damaging knee ligaments at Gloucester last weekend.

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