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Exclusive: Bring in NFL style coach's challenge is the call from top English club chiefs

By Chris Jones
Some Premiership coaches have called for a new rule to be adopted from the NFL.

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Top English rugby bosses are calling for the introduction of a coach’s challenge in the Gallagher Premiership to allow them to overturn game changing errors by the referee.

Wasps’ Dai Young, Gloucester’s Johan Ackermann and Sale’s Steve Diamond are unhappy with the current Television Match Official protocols that see the referee ask for help, particularly when a try is scored. These three leading directors of rugby want their own input and believe two coach’s challenges – one per half – would significantly help their cause and correct decisions they believe are wrong.

This kind of challenge system has been used for 19 seasons in the American NFL and was introduced into basketball last year. In the NFL it has been reported that around 37 per cent of the nearly 6,000 reviewed plays were overturned with each review taking an average of two minutes and 45 seconds.

World Rugby confirmed to RugbyPass that the introduction of a challenge system had twice been rejected by their ruling Council and that any amendment to the current TMO protocol would require the Rugby Football Union to apply for a trial.

Ackermann also wants the TMO to look a more than the two phases prior to a try that are currently part of the protocols with decisions using slow motion and repeated replays having an increasingly significant effect on results in the Premiership also European matches.

When Wasps were beaten 28-22 at home by Harlequins last month, a possible game winning try opportunity was lost when Elia Elia, the Quins hooker emerged from the maul with the ball to clear the danger with just two minutes remaining. Anger at the time could not influence the decision which RugbyPass understands was later seen as a mistake and should have been a penalty try and yellow card. If a coach’s challenge had been in place, Wasps would have called for a ruling at that time with the help of the TMO.

Young said: “I agree with the idea of a coach’s challenge because we have laptops in front of us during the match and if there is there something they have missed then I don’t see why we can’t have one challenge a half.


“I don’t think it would have a negative effect because you wouldn’t challenge just for the sake of it because it could be wasted and we have seen that in cricket. In the Quins game we were going bananas on the bench and wanted the incident to be looked at. We have the technology and want to get decisions right so why not use it in that way and it should be considered. On the wider question of the TMO, I think it is important that the referee controls the game and I feel that asking the TMO repeatedly to rule on is it a try or not is a cop out.

“Reports come back from the RFU and the assessors and you find that one decision they believe was wrong cost us a game and another almost did. That kind of thing doesn’t help directors of rugby! I know people say bringing in a coach’s challenge needs to be agreed by World Rugby but the Premiership can do what they want – it’s their league. I understand why they only go two phases back when a try scored otherwise the time it takes – and people moan already about that – so if it goes back to the origin of possession it will add time.”

Diamond is equally supportive of bringing in a coach’s challenge and would have used it in the recent 16-14 defeat by Bath when England flanker Tom Curry was penalised for a no-arms tackle which was later deemed a legal hit when officials reviewed the match.

This is why Diamond wants to be able to highlight decisions he fundamentally disagrees with at the time rather than find out days later he was right. The Sale director of rugby said: “I would 100 per cent support a coach’s challenge being introduced. Why in the case of the Tom Curry tackle did the referee not check that right away? Why aren’t we using the technology available and a coach’s call would have allowed us to ask the question at the time.

“In my book we employ some people to do the TMO reviews who have never been a referee. You might say why does that matter but it does because they need to know what they are looking for, particularly in the build up to a try and I believe far more things get missed than are picked up. We see things at the time that are missed by officials. I am not sure World Rugby would like the Premiership to introduce a coach’s challenge because they think we are getting too powerful.”

For Ackermann extending the number of phases that are examined by the TMO is an important change that needs to be considered and he said: “ The frustrating thing is that other things get missed at break down, line outs and whatever you want to call it. To me it is a bit funny that things get missed in the general build up to a try but yet we worry about the last scoring part of it.

“That is why the TMO power is only when they go up to it and to me the margins are so slim that it should be from the moment the ball is thrown into the line out until the ball is put over the try line and if there is a mistake in between it can cost you a position in the league table so why not if you have the (video) footage refer back to it?”

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