We’re just five games into the new season of Super Rugby Aotearoa and we’ve perhaps already witnessed the most egregious TMO decision of the tournament.
In Saturday night’s clash between the Crusaders and the Chiefs, the match was poised on a knife’s edge early in the second half with the home side holding a narrow 11-10 lead.
Despite the Chiefs scoring first through Damian McKenzie, the Crusaders had fought their way back into the game through a combination of an incredibly dominant scrum and some fine work by the silky backs – including one exceptional finish by 21-year-old Leicester Fainga’anuku.
There was a sense that once the Crusaders were able to build up some steam, the red and black machine would keep chugging and a victory would be inevitable. In all likelihood, they would have managed to generate that momentum themselves but come the 44th minute of the match, the Television Match Official seemingly took things into his own hands.
Crusaders No 10 Richie Mo’unga – arguably the best performer on the night – made a break down the field and was eventually wrangled in by Chiefs halfback Brad Weber.
Mo’unga attempted to offload the ball but had his right hand slapped by Weber in the process, causing the attempted pass to shoot forwards.
From the pick-up, the Crusaders were eventually able to work themselves into a try-scoring position and Fainga’anuku almost barrelled over the line for his second of the night but was stopped short thanks to a tackle from a clearly off-side Weber.
Referee James Doleman blew his whistle and was quickly approached by Chiefs co-captain Sam Cane, who challenged the Mo’unga offload.
A captain’s challenge, introduced for this year’s competition, allows a team to ask for a reassessment of a refereeing decision. Each side is allowed just one per match (the rules go out the door in the 75th minute, however), which has introduced some extra strategy into the game for 2021.
While TMO Paul Williams looked at the incident, he appeared to consider just one angle of the tackle and quickly confirmed to Doleman that the right decision had been made.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) March 13, 2021
Further angles, however, clearly showed that Weber had not touched the ball.
Following the decision, Weber was sent from the field for his off-side play and the Crusaders were awarded a penalty try, taking the score out to 18-11. Shortly before Weber returned to the field, Will Jordan touched down to hand the Crusaders a sizeable 25-10 lead.
Following the game, Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan appeared bemused by the decision.
“I thought it was a pretty good challenge, to be fair,’’ McMillan said.
“It didn’t look, from the angle that we had, that Brad got a hand to the ball. I guess the ball definitely propelled forward but the decision was made that it came off one of our players.”
The decision was widely panned on social media.
That’s an awful call.
The second replay showed Weber clearly hit his arm against Mo’unga’s.
What are they watching?!#CRUvCHI
— Ryan Nixon (@NewYorkNixon) March 13, 2021
This is going to be a famous TMO call. That is terrible. Quite incompetent. #CRUvCHI
— Hamish Rutherford (@oneforthedr) March 13, 2021
I think we all accept that refs have to make split second decisions that aren’t always correct.
But the TMO has the luxury of having many looks at many angles so really not acceptable.
— Tony Kuriger (@TMKuriger) March 13, 2021
Not saying the Chiefs would have won but the game was tight and that godawful TMO call killed the game for anyone watching, just moments after halftime. Like, killed it stone dead. #CRUvCHI
— Mark O’Shea (@markoyaaaay) March 13, 2021
This is absolutely disgraceful. Some dodgy calls this match but Weber did NOT touch that ball, cost the Chiefs 7 points, a yellow card and more than likely the match. #CRUvCHI
— Zak (@Zak96_inverted_) March 13, 2021
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a decent chance the Crusaders would have won this game anyway, but the Fainga’anuku try, Weber yellow and subsequent penalty try killed the Chiefs here. Shocking calls by the video ref #CRUvCHI
— Ed Ansell (@EdAnsell1) March 13, 2021
Should have ruled Crusaders knock on, instead they rushed it, made the wrong ball. @ChiefsRugby lost their CC, Weber received a yellow card and a penalty try was awarded.
— Nelson Scoop Dale (@Nelsonhdale) March 13, 2021
The way the match was heading, it’s hard to envisage that even without the dodgy call, the Chiefs would have been able to end their 10-match losing streak.
Prior to Weber’s tackle, a Chiefs player also clearly held back a supporting Crusaders runner – so the Crusaders would have likely had a penalty to play with regardless.
Still, with the Chiefs having received apologies last year for some poor refereeing decisions that potentially cost them matches, it’s not a good look for the competition.
“In big moments, we’ve got the TMO for a reason,” Midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown told Newstalk ZB last year following a loss to the Blues that included a last-minute contentious call that was not referred to the video ref.
“We’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of calls this whole year and when it counted, when we needed it, why not go upstairs? I was a little bit frustrated. In a massive moment, I think we’ve got to use the TMO.”
Using the TMO obviously didn’t help on Saturday, however, and the Chiefs will be left wondering what more they need to do to have a bit of luck go their way.
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