It’s been a while since I reported on rugby activities, so here goes. Saturday last (February 12) saw me at Twickenham, London for the England vs. Italy match in the RBS Six Nations championship. Whilst I have been the TMO for other internationals, this was my first Six Nations game and the first visit to “HQ” or “Twickers”, so it was something to which I had been looking forward.
As things turned out, I didn’t have much to do as England ran out easy 59-13 winners. Despite nine tries being scored during the game the referee (Craig Joubert from South Africa) had no need to refer any of them to me for review, so all I had to do was keep time.
Unlike Heineken Cup games, there is no separate timekeeper and the TMO is given a rather splendid Heath Robinson device to control the stadium clock. The device features a large green button to start the clock and a red button to stop the clock together with a PC running a Windows program that’s used to set the clock so that it either counts down a half or shows the elapsed time.
You might think that it’s an easy task to follow the referee and stop the clock when he says “Time Off” and restart it when he says “Time On” but referees (and TMOs) are human and mistakes are easily made if you don’t concentrate. For example, the referee might forget to say “Time Off” when an obvious injury has happened and the game is stopped to allow a player to be treated. Equally, the timekeeper might forget to restart the stadium clock when play recommences, something that happened in a Heineken Cup game in France earlier this season. Players and coaches tend to use the stadium clock to know how much time remains to play and while the referee keeps time themselves and will always be the final arbiter of how much time remains, it’s definitely not appreciated when errors occur in the game time. Total concentration was the order of the day.
Rather remarkably, we also had another PC beside the stadium clock PC that ran yet another timing system to show the clock on TV. The two PCs were not connected and the times were only synchronized through the efforts of one of the BBC outside broadcast crew who followed me as I stopped and started the stadium clock. It seems wasteful to have two separate clocks and the human nature of the synchronization makes it all too easy for a difference to appear between stadium and TV clocks. Thankfully, we kept the difference to a couple of seconds and all was well.
Given the professional nature of top-class rugby and the excellent systems that operate in stadia such as Twickenham it’s hard to understand why we can’t have a single timing system that all can use. I guess that it’s a small thing and that the large display clocks built into the different stadia use varying control systems – but maybe there’s an opportunity for a PC (or even iPhone or iPad) application to create a unified time signal that all could use. I must add it to the list of things to do… one of these days.