I fear that I am the most unproductive TMO in rugby. The last six matches that I have been involved in have seen just one potential try decision referred to me (480 minutes for one decision, very low productivity). I guess I have been fortunate to work with referees such as Alan Lewis, Alain Rolland, Steve Walsh, Stuart Dickinson, and Bryce Lawrence, all of whom get into great position to make their own decisions about tries. In any case, Saturday found us in Toulon for the Heineken Cup game against London Irish. Toulon had beaten London Irish in England last weekend so this was a “do or die” match for London Irish as a win was an absolute necessity if they had any chance of progressing in the competition.
The game was pretty uninspiring in the first half. Fourteen penalties and an interminable series of line-outs and unsatisfactory scrums in what was supposed to be a high-class game of professional rugby tells its own story. Eventually Alain Rolland (referee) told both captains that there was far too much interference with the ball on the ground and warned them of the likely consequences. The second half started with London Irish facing a 17-0 deficit and exploded into action after the London Irish 11 (Sailosi Tagicakibau) was dismissed after he wrapped a Toulon player in a tackle some 10m from the Irish line. He had been yellow-carded in the 21st minute for a deliberate knock-on so as light followed day another yellow card emerged from Alain’s pocket to be transformed into a red card after Alain realized that the numberless jersey really was number 11.
This red card was a good example of a team sanction but it was not intelligent for a professional player who had already received a yellow card to put themselves into a position after a team warning where the referee had to deliver on the warning and give a yellow card to the next player who infringed, especially in the “red zone”. I’m sure that his team had plenty to say about the red card as it seemed to create an insurmountable challenge: Toulon is difficult enough to play at home with a full 15; giving them an extra player seems unwise to say the least.
However, as it turned out, losing a player spurred on London Irish and they rapidly scored a penalty and two converted tries to regain parity at 17 all. Things were interesting in the broadcasting truck where I could hear the moans of disbelief from the French contingent as Toulon struggled to cope with 14 opponents. However, when a team is a man down they have to be very precise about how they play and the wheels came off London Irish’s comeback in the 67th minute when a turnover resulted in the third Toulon try. This was swiftly followed by two further tries to secure a 38-17 win and bonus point for Toulon and to leave London Irish bereft of anything to show for their effort.
Our travel this weekend was pretty smooth because we had the luxury of avoiding a transit and used the direct Dublin-Nice route with Aer Lingus. It’s a great luxury to be able to take a direct flight to a European match instead of being forced to go through the hell-holes of CDG or LHR. Two other Irish refereeing teams had significant problems with snow and ice elsewhere in France and Italy that resulted in match delays. When we reached the airport on Sunday, we thanked our good luck again as we found hundreds of people trying to arrange flights due to closures in Frankfurt and Heathrow.
I bumped into Bob Casey, the second row of London Irish, at the airport. I’ve known Bob since he played schools rugby for Blackrock College. He played against Toulon but had come off in the 77th minute after a clash of heads with a teammate. Fortunately, his sunny good humour was still evident, perhaps due to the prospect of returning to Ireland for some pre-Christmas cheer. Bob writes an interesting rugby column from the perspective of a professional player in the Irish Times every Monday. It was interesting to hear his view on the game and how things went.
Rugby travel is now over for 2010. It will resume in January when the last two pool rounds of the Heineken Cup are played followed soon afterwards by the Six Nations. In the meantime, it’s time to have a rest and enjoy being at home for a while.