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RFU statement: TMO 'disappointed' with distraction over Farrell incident

REACTION: The Rugby Football Union has issued a statement on the controversy surrounding the TMO’s decision not to review potential foul play on Owen Farrell during Saracens’ win over the Harlequins.

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The incident occurred in the 13th minute of Saturday’s match where co-commentator Austin Healey spotted what appeared to be Stephan Lewies sliding into the ruck with no arms and making contact with Farrell.

Farrell confronted the South African player over the incident on the field.

“Owen Farrell being upset and it’s worth another look. Lewies comes in with his knees into the ruck. I think it’s worth another look,” Healy said.

“I think No.6 slides into the ruck really late with both of his knees.”

“Where he hits Farrell could be really interesting.”

Fans were then stunned when it appeared that TMO Stuart Terheege would not review the incident due to Healy’s comments.

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“The problem we’ve got now of course is that it looks like Healey’s instigated it. The problem I’ve got now is that it looks like Austin’s instigated it,” the TMO said, as the incident was not reviewed.

As the TV replayed the incident, Terheege told the matchday director: “Oh don’t show it.”

In a statement, RFU threw their full support behind Terheege, who expressed his disappointed “that he allowed himself to be distracted with interactions with the broadcast team”.

Read the full statement below:

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The Professional Game Match Officials Team (PGMOT) regret that questions have been raised about player safety and decision-making. Match officials take player welfare incredibly seriously and it is their overriding priority.

At the time of the Gonzalez try, the Television Match Official (TMO), Stuart Terheege asked the TNT Sports Director for clips around the incident to review in the background before deciding whether to call an official review into the foul play incident, or not.

This is a common request from TMO to Director, that occurs in rugby broadcasting to enable the TMO to decide whether an official review is required. Simultaneously, the TMO also checked the grounding on the Saracens try.

In relation to the act of foul play committed by Stephen Lewies against Owen Farrell, the TMO saw the initial contact off the ball. He decided on the evidence that it was no more than a penalty advantage. As Saracens went onto score, that advantage was deemed to have been taken, so no further action was required.

In response to Stuart’s initial request for images the Director asked the TMO if he wanted to look again at the incident. The TMO declined, as he was confident in his original decision. At the same time, the TNT Sports commentary team also saw the replays and posed the question whether Lewies’ actions warranted a review.

TNT Sports’ audio directors can cut to the TMO if there is a moment when viewers would benefit from their insight in their decision-making. At this juncture, some of the conversation between the TMO and Match Director with regards to the replays requested and whether an official review was needed were broadcast ‘live.’

The conversation between TMO and Director that was broadcast ‘live’ was regrettable, they were not intended to be heard outside of the broadcast truck nor were they the reason for the foul play incident not being formally reviewed.

Terheege is disappointed that he allowed himself to be distracted with interactions with the broadcast team and did not communicate his decision to the on-field match officials.

TMOs do not actively listen or react to the broadcast commentary team. TMOs make their decisions independently, based on their own judgement, experience, and in line with agreed World Rugby protocols. However, due to their location at the matches, they sometimes overhear commentary. The nature of the audio configuration in some broadcast trucks and in some stadiums means the working environment varies from match to match.

The incident was an unusual and unfortunate occurrence. The PGMOT, Premiership Rugby and TNT Sports are working closely together to make sure this does not happen again. The three organisations enjoy a close and positive working relationship based on a mutually beneficial system that has worked for many years. All parties will continue to work hard to further refine and perfect systems to ensure player safety and high-quality rugby.

*Additional sources: Daily Mail & The Guardian

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