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SA's TMO takes centre stage in England win

2015-09-19 07:24
Shaun Veldsman (Gallo Images)

London - Shaven-headed Mike Brown took the man-of-the-match accolade from England's Rugby World Cup Opener on Friday but for many it was a close run contest between the flying fullback and the Television Match Official.

While England got the win over Fiji they needed, and scored the four tries required in a 35-11 scoreline to earn a bonus point, the hosts hardly sparkled in any department.

The TMO, video referee Shaun Veldsman, was central to action throughout, making a series of spot-on calls, but which opened up fresh debate as to its use.

Few would begrudge Brown his bauble - he scored two tries - but the more influential character on the night was Veldsman. He awarded two tries, one apiece, and denied Fiji a second, among a host of other accurate calls.

He featured heavily, some say too heavily, throughout on the Twickenham turf. And while his calls were correct, they hindered the flow of the game, sucking momentum and dampening passions.

"It gets frustrating for everyone when those decisions take a little time, but it is part of the game and those officials have to get those decisions right," Fiji coach John McKee told reporters.

"So it makes for a better game... I guess."

England benefited most from the TMO's judgments on the night, so perhaps it was no surprise Stuart Lancaster had little to criticise.

"We want to see accurate decisions, so we just get on with it," he said.

Whether it was the famed home advantage - that deafening roar of 80,000 England fans - that brought the TMO into play so frequently, or whether it was simply indecision from South African referee Jaco Peyper is debatable.

In the final analysis, it is also neither here nor there.

The telling fact is that the TMO was centre stage time and time again in a contest which morphed into a staccato spectacle, one which became increasingly frustrating for the purists, and baffling for beginners.

Hawkeye technology, best-known for its use in revolutionising cricket and tennis, is being employed here to help the TMO. The video referee can pore over television feeds, offering a wide range of angles and digital zoom, before feeding assistance into the referee's earpiece.

The TMO can help prevent years of impassioned argument over disputed calls -- every country has their favourite injustice -- but the downside to such extensive use is the broken play and periods of inaction while officials ponder decisions.

"Is this American Football," one supporter on Friday shouted, alluding to the stop-start nature of the NFL, while wags on social media inserted TMO into lists of 50 Greatest Rugby Players, such was its influence.

It didn't take long for the technology to assert itself on the match.

After 10 minutes of play Jonny May was upended. The combined roar from the home supporters seemed to cause Peyper to turn to the TMO. Although the referee ultimately decided it had been just a penalty, a precedent seemed to have been set.

Shortly afterwards the Fijians celebrated what they'd thought was a morale-boosting try, but a replay on the stadium's big screen showed Nikola Matawalu had dropped the ball centimetres from the line as he stretched to score.

Whistles and screams from the crowd caused the referee to think twice, and the TMO ruled no try.

Clive Woodward, England's World Cup-winning coach from 2003, hit out angrily at that decision. "Once the referee has given the try, that's what you have got to go with. Once you give it, you can't then go back," he told ITV.

England's 2003 hero Jonny Wilkinson said there needed to be a very clear protocol. "How far does it go?" he asked. "After he takes the conversion and then it's on the screen? Can you go back at halftime? Will you review at the end of the game and change scores after?"

As if scripted, the TMO had the final say in the match as, in the dying seconds, Billy Vunipola disappeared into a pile of bodies on the line with the ball tucked under his arm.

Veldsman was called on yet again, and, after yet another spell of players standing around, delivered his verdict to referee Peyper who finally raised his arm to signify England's fourth, and bonus point-earning, try.

"It's right to get as many decisions as you can right - but this has to be quicker," was the verdict of former England hooker Brian Moore. It was a sentiment shared by the majority of the crowd.

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