Friday, 31 August 2012

Premiership Rugby needs consistency on TMOs

I wrote this article for The Rugby Paper at the start of August. A month on, and with the Premiership season starting tomorrow, it would be nice to see some progress here. For the sake of fairness, there surely needs to be equality of technological assistance for the referee across all matches.

Plans to introduce Television Match Officials at all Aviva Premiership matches for the forthcoming season have stalled as clubs ponder whether to stump up the £350,000 needed.

Talks over the use of TMOs at non-broadcast matches have gone quiet since a four-match trial at the end of last season.

Among those leading the push for the blanket use of TMOs are Exeter, but the Chiefs chairman and chief executive, Tony Rowe, says discussions among the Premiership Rugby board have been limited since the trial ended on April 21.

Rowe says Premiership clubs between them already pay over £1 million per season towards elite refereeing, making further costs for TV adjudication difficult for some clubs to bear. He believes the RFU should step in and shoulder some of the financial burden.

Exeter benefited during last season's TMO trial, with a match-winning try at Gloucester awarded to them after it was referred to the TV official.

"We would like to see TMOs at every match," said Rowe. "We would vote for it. TMOs are very important to the game. We have got to have enough strategically-placed cameras.

"After the game at Kingsholm we think it's a must going forward. I think there is widespread support but the issue fora lot of clubs is a financial one - having to pay for all the cameras.

"I don't know how long it would take to introduce. I've not been involved in any discussions since the trial last season."

Explaining why he believes the RFU should chip in, Rowe said: "Well over £1 million a year is paid by Premiership Rugby to the RFU for elite refereeing. At the moment, the money involved has got to come from Premiership Rugby rather than the RFU.

"The RFU wants elite rugby and makes most of its money from elite rugby with events at Twickenham so I think they should [contribute financially]."

Currently, only live Premiership matches broadcast by either Sky or ESPN benefit from TMOs. When Premiership Rugby announced the four-game trial at non broadcast matches last season, it said it was being carried out to help ensure the integrity of the competition.

A Premiership Rugby spokesman said this week: "It is an important innovation and it's something that could be reignited over the next couple of weeks.

"It will be on the agenda at the next Premiership Rugby board meeting in September. It's something that needs to be agreed by all clubs."

The broader use of TMOs is under consideration by the IRB, which in May announced it was considering widening TMOs' jurisdiction so they can rule on incidents of foul play, as well as play leading up to a try.

But Rowe is doubtful whether the Premiership will see the uniform use of TMOs at any point this season.

"If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd bet they won't be introduced this season - and that's because there's money involved," he said.

West Country rugby seeks inoculation against 'Welsh flu'

Former England coach Jack Rowell once complained that the Bath side he had just taken charge of suffered "Welsh flu" whenever they crossed the Severn Bridge for a match. Now the West Country side are hoping to leave a few other clubs feeling queasy after signing their own Welsh bruisers.

Wales utility prop Paul James and former Wales U21 lock Dominic Day have both been recruited to give Bath more grunt in the front five. James, who has 38 caps, moved after nine years at Ospreys while Day has moved to The Rec from Scarlets.

And with Ben Morgan 's move from Parc y Scarlets to Gloucester, they represent something of a eastwards migration over the Bridge.

"A lot of the time people here don't understand what Paul and I are saying to each other," laughs Day. "Paul's a Valleys boy and we both have thick accents.

"But Paul is a clever guy and a quality player and it's great to have someone of his experience also joining Bath. I've played against him and I know he doesn't take a backwards step."

Day and James are the latest Welsh players to head to either England or France following the introduction of a £3.5 million salary cap on the Welsh regions' player budgets.

But Day doesn't believe the move will harm his and James's international prospects. He believes the move to the Premiership will give his play a harder edge.

"As long as I'm playing well and if I am in contact with the Welsh Rugby Union, then we'll see," he said. "Stephen Jones, James Hook and others - a lot of these (international) players are leaving the country. I'm sure Paul still has ambitions to carry on playing for Wales.

"A lot of players are leaving Wales at the moment for one reason or another, and for me personally it was because I felt I needed a change. Things were getting a little stale at Scarlets.

"Part of the reason for coming here is that I want to improve my forwards play. The Premiership's got a reputation as a hard league with big forwards and there are quality sides to play week in week out."

Day admits to having been taken aback by the ferocity of Bath's pre-season programme.

"It's the work rate and the workload; it's been a lot higher this pre-season," he said. "Whether it's weights or contact sessions, it's been tough. I've had to learn a lot."

It might be a steep learning curve, but there is little chance that Day or James have been homesick, at least over the past month, thanks to the distinctly Welsh flavour to Bath's warm-up matches: London Welsh, Ospreys and Cardiff Blues.