After I described last week at the Millennium Stadium as a farce, I hardly expected to be trumped in the very next match, but how wrong I was! A dramatic end to the game for sure, but the tension could, and should, have been ramped up yet another notch. It was truly farcical how nobody knew whether the match had ended or whether there would be one last play once Scotland scored their try after battering away at the Welsh line! At home we could all clearly see that seconds remained after Laidlaw’s conversion and that Wales should have restarted, yet on a difficult day for Glen Jackson, he opted to consult the TMO who duly gave him the wrong information!
How does Rugby Union, and in particular the Six Nations keep on doing this to itself? The clock in the corner of the screen, generally seen around the grounds too, is meant to avoid this kind of problem, but it doesn’t. The thrills and spills of a dramatic final play were allowed to proceed in 2010 where Wales showed impressive ball retention skills against a short-handed Scottish defence before Shane Williams dived under the posts to seal the result. And who can forget the infamous “10 seconds” Chris White accorded to Wales in Rome in 2007 when James Hook quickly kicked to the corner in the hope of securing lineout possession and crossing the whitewash to win the game, spurning a kick at goal to draw. As Wales prepared to throw, White proceeded to ask TMO Geoff Warren for a time check before blowing for full time, to the consternation and dismay of those in red. The man with the whistle, as things currently stand, is the sole arbiter of the watch yet it seems as though on pitch officials are happy to defer to someone else when it comes to timekeeping.
On the same weekend as the missing seconds in Scotland, a similar overtime scenario played out in the Super 15 competition 6,000 miles away in South Africa. As the Sharks chased a win against the Cheetahs in Durban, the ball was kicked into touch with the clock reading 79 minutes and 55 seconds. Unlike in Murrayfield, the on-field referee Rohan Hoffmann – without needing to consult the TMO – clearly and correctly explained to the players that although the clock had turned red by the time the line-out had formed, there would in fact be time for a last play. This duly took place with the final whistle eventually blown at 81.30. In South Africa, unlike in Scotland, the officiating team did a great job and without any fuss, demonstrating the distance Super 15 officials are ahead in terms of organisation and decisiveness compared to their Northern Hemisphere counterparts.
Other sports, and in particular Rugby League must look at instances such as the one last Sunday and snigger. They have adapted their game beyond compare over consecutive seasons, now stretching to TMO’s explaining decisions to the crowd, much like an NFL umpire in the USA. In Rugby League, timing is clear, a hooter sounds when the time is up and no-one is under any illusions as to whether there will be a “next play”. In Ice Hockey, there is a buzzer for the same reason and we have even seen hooters used in Southern Hemisphere Union games, so why not introduce it now to the Six Nations? This is really the only sure-fire way to eliminate all element of doubt come the end of the match.
Having said that, it still requires a time-keeper with a diligent eye and precise hand to stop the clock at the right time and restart it again on the referee’s say-so. Many sports manage this simply enough, so surely it would also prove a resounding success in the Six Nations as well, although you have to wonder given recent timekeeping history! The viewing public seem more aware of the clock and the laws surrounding the end of the game than some of the officials who call time when there are seconds still to play. Correctly and accurately implemented however, there is no reason to believe that the introduction of a league-style hooter would be anything other than a positive innovation, and one which referees like Glen Jackson would surely also welcome.