History of the TMO
Watch the Wimbledon men’s final, an epic battle, and there you will see challenges about whether the ball was in or out, and they use hawk-eye. Watch the cricket between Sri Lanka and Pakistan and there will be referrals to the match referee via television replays. Rugby does it, too. In fact it did it before cricket or tennis.
In rugby the use of television and the TV ref/video ref/television match official started in Pretoria in 1995 in the Blue Bulls’ Carlton League Final in 1995. The referee was Tappe Henning, the TMO Louis Wessels. At the beginning of 1996 it was used at the Toyota Club Championship in Durban with Johan Gouws to drive it.
It was not an entirely new idea. The NFL first experimented with “instant replay” in 1976 and owes much to Art McNally who was in charge of the NFL’s match officials at the time. In 1978 the first tentative steps were taken into so many teething problems that it was shelved, coming to life again in 1985 when it was tested in eight preseason matches and the next year started on its developing career.
The main man behind the Pretoria use of television was the former Test referee, the late Albert Adams, who had experienced it in the USA in 1991 when he went there. Others who were keen on the idea were Louis Wessels, who was then the chairman of the Blue Bulls Referees’ Society, Jannie van der Mescht of the Referees’ Society and Dave van der Merwe of the Blue Bulls Rugby Union. The Union gave permission and Tappe Henning agreed to be the guinea pig.
In the beginning it was used differently as there were no replays as it was used in matches that were not televised. The TMO would give advice to the referee. The union hired a cameraman and the communication system between referee and TMO, but this was not feasible for club rugby because of the expense.
South Africa then experimented with it in the provincial Under-21 tournament, and gradually the process became more refined.
SANZAR (now SANZAAR to include Argentina) started using it in the Super 12 in 2000, though New Zealand was not at all keen – for logistical reasons. The first match was between the Hurricanes and the Sharks with Steve Walsh, snr, as TMO and Peter Marshall the referee. The first referee in Super 12 to refer a decision to the TMO was André Watson when the Brumbies played the Blues.
The first TMO in a Test was Mark Lawrence, when England played South Africa in Pretoria and Colin Hawke was the referee.
Cricket took the use of television from rugby but developed it more rapidly than rugby did, powered largely by Ali Bacher. Soccer has been reluctant to use television evidence. Basketball started using the instant replay in 2002 and baseball in 2008.
Before the IRB (now World Rugby) had drawn up its protocol for the TMO’s functions, SANZAR had one. The SANZAR protocol allowed for the identification of the perpetrator of foul play. Jonathan Kaplan did that once – in the 2001 Super 12 semifinal between the Reds and the Brumbies. He had seen foul play and asked Wayne Erickson, the TMO, to identify the culprit.
Kaplan also used it, as SANZAR had laid down, to make sure of a dropped goal in a Currie Cup match between the Blue Bulls and North West. The late James Apollis told him that the kick was over.
The foul play incident was then outside what the IRB protocol is now but the dropped goal is within the present protocol. The IRB protocol is only for scoring and for foul play in in-goal.
The most famous TMO decision was probably the one that decided that left wing Mark Cueto of England had not scored a try in the final of the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Alain Rolland of Ireland was the referee; Stuart Dickinson of Australia, an active referee at the time, was the TMO who made the crucial decision.
It was the sort of decision that the TMO was made for.
The TMO was initially used more sparingly in Europe than in the SANZAR countries but it was introduced into the Heineken Cup semifinals in 2002 and is now used as a matter of course whenever feasible.
Now TMOs buzz about the world on duty in a variety of important matches.
More and more TMO-ing has become specialised, and World Rugby clearly has a list of top TMOs. They had just four at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, presumably the four rated best in the world: Graham Hughes (England), Rowan Kitt (England), Ben Skeen (New Zealand) and Marius Jonker (South Africa). The four had a total 217 tests as TMOs amongst themn.
The 2019 World Cup TMO Appointments to Knock-out matches
England vs Australia: Ben Skeen
New Zealand vs Ireland: Graham Hughes
Wales vs France: Marius Jonker
Japan vs South Africa: Rowan Kitt
England vs New Zealand: Marius Jonker
Wales vs South Africa: Ben Skeen
New Zealand vs Wales: Marius Jonker
World Cup Final
England vs South Africa: Ben Skeen