While the play in MLR has improved quickly, it’s the officiating that’s set to take a giant leap.
Major League Rugby will be adding both a Television Match Official and Head Injury Assessment Protocols in the 2022 season.
TMO has become standard upon the world’s largest rugby competitions and at the test level. Fans received a glimpse at the TMO process during the Championship Final in LA. The process adds a fourth official that can communicate with the referee on the field from a remote location. The TMO can communicate missed calls that we see from the couch that can be missed in the flow of the game. It also provides a replay option for the referee if needed to clarify a call or score.
TMO has become a controversial topic among fans. While process improves the general officiating product, it can disrupt the flow of a match. How the MLR handles its eyes in the sky will be crucial to the success of the program.
The HIA protocols will be much more widely accepted. Head Injury Assessments can be called for by an independent neurologist on site. By rule, the neurologist calls for an assessment, at which point the player can be temporarily subbed off the field. If the player passes the assessment, the substitution can be reversed with the player being subbed on and off remaining eligible to enter the game at a later point.
While the league surely knew HIA protocols were needed, last year’s scary incident with Legion scrumhalf Ethan McVeigh pushed the issue to the forefront. The rookie took a terrifying knock and had to be stretchered from the field. Legion had used all of their subs before the incident. Without a formal HIA protocol, officials mistakenly forced the Legion to finish the game with 14 men instead of subbing on a replacement. (Under the exact text of the law, the HIA wasn’t technically required to rule it a head injury. However, refs were not prepared to make that assessment, despite the fact he literally landed on his head.)