Anyone watching the opening round of Major League Rugby might’ve noticed a difference in officiating. They also might’ve missed it entirely.
The introduction of a Television Match Official to the MLR was widely applauded, yet the early returns exceeded expectations. While TMOs have developed a reputation for stopping the flow of the game and over officiating from the truck, there were no extended reviews coming from upstairs. Officiating took a step forward, but it didn’t come at the expense of the viewing experience.
Replay officiating has become a necessary evil in the USA. NFL replays can last 5+ minutes, bringing the game to a screeching halt. In a game without built in stopping points, an overzealous TMO can dismantle the flow of a rugby match. Other rugby competitions around the league have faced the same issue, with brief moments played in the stadium for several minutes in an attempt to ensure a perfect call despite any video evidence to contradict the on field decision.
MLR TMOs have weird advantage; there’s usually no ability to play a call back on the screen in real time. While other leagues task the TMO with throwing a reviewable moment on the big screen for the on-field officials to stare at and talk through, the lack of in-stadium screens leaves the TMO with more authority to ensure a correct call on their own. Need to check grounding? Ask the TMO if they see any grounding. Its much faster than the whole stadium gawking at the screen while its played back for the on-field officiating team.
The other weird advantage for a TMO? The lack of TV cameras. The Rugby World Cup usually features 40+ cameras for a match. An MLR match usually has 10 or less. Instead of sorting through 6-8 angles in an attempt to get a glimpse at a play, an MLR official probably has about 2-3 angles to get through. Its much easier to accept that you just don’t have a helpful angle when there aren’t that many angles.