TMO referrals are part of virtually every top-level game now. INPHO/Photosport/Andrew Cornaga

'The TMO intervention around foul play has created so much dead time'

Ex-Ireland analyst Eoin Toolan wants to see TMO involvement limited to try-scoring decisions.

LAST UPDATE | 30 Nov 2022

HOW CAN WORLD Rugby make the sport a better product ahead of next year’s World Cup?

The game’s governing body gathered a group of coaches, performance directors, administrators, and match officials in London last week to discuss exactly that at a ‘shape of the game’ conference.

It sparked an interesting chat on today’s episode of The42 Rugby Weekly Extra – a podcast available to members of The42 every Monday and Wednesday – as host Murray Kinsella was joined by former Ireland and Melbourne Rebels performance analyst Eoin Toolan.

One of the topics discussed was how laborious the Television Match Official [TMO] process has become at the top level of the game, with frequent, extended interactions between the referee and TMO causing frustration for supporters in stadiums and watching at home.

Toolan, who also worked with the Kintetsu Liners in Japan, believes that the TMO should only be involved in try-scoring decisions and at the referee’s prompting.

Currently, TMOs interject during games to bring incidents of foul play or missed infringements to the referee’s attention, but Toolan wants to see this cut out of rugby completely.

“From memory, the original purpose of the TMO was around try-scoring decisions,” said Toolan.

“I think we need to peel it back to that aspect of the game and it needs to be prompted by the referee. If he’s unsure whether a try was scored legitimately or not, let the referee prompt the TMO.

“Having intervention around foul play, I just think has created so much dead time in the game. The balance here is clearly player welfare versus spectacle for the supporter. I think we are significantly detracting from the spectacle by providing more influence for the TMO, who is ultimately only trying to do his job and is minutely going through every detail of a game looking for head collisions, foul play, and having to interject because there are so many of those that happen in the game of rugby union.

“I would like to see it go back to just the TMO being prompted by the referee to assist with those try-scoring decisions if they aren’t obvious to the referee.

“Away from that, the other part we’ve talked about a lot is having a far more robust transparent judicial process post-game where those elements of foul play can be dealt with post-game.

“But I just think trying to pick up everything during the game is, for me, an impossibility and is just taking the flow of the game away. Slow-motion replays, two to three minutes trying to figure out where the initial point of contact was, was it intentional… I think we’ve gone too far.”

Player welfare is a huge focus for rugby given the concerns around concussion, and Toolan believes that harsher post-match sanctions for foul play mean this will continue to be addressed even if incidents are missed during games.

“That’s why I’m referring to a robust judicial process after the game where we come down hard on those areas of clear foul play, head contacts,” said Toolan. “Punish the player.

“Let’s punish the player even if they have to serve long 12-week or 16-week bans. I guarantee that would mean a change to their techniques because they’re missing out on payment and potential future contracts, they’re not playing the game. Are clubs going to continually contract players that are serving these lengthy bans for technical inaccuracies?

“We’ve talked a lot on the show about how the margin for error is getting smaller and smaller. Yes, player welfare is absolutely essential, but if we’re using the TMO to intervene on any head contacts, the game as an entertainment spectacle is going to continue to diminish.”

Elsewhere on the podcast, Toolan and Kinsella discussed the possible introduction of shot clocks and other possible tweaks that could make rugby a better product for fans.

The lads also looked ahead to Ireland’s pool at the World Cup next year, assessing how Romania, Tonga, South Africa, and Scotland are shaping up for the tournament.


To get access to The42 Rugby Weekly Extra, which comes out every Monday with Gavan Casey, Bernard Jackman, and Murray Kinsella, as well as every Wednesday with Eoin Toolan, become a member of The42 at

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