On March 13 I was back at Twickenham to be the TV Match Official (TMO) for the England v Scotland Six Nations game. This is the oldest international fixture and was first played in 1871, so there’s a bit of history and whenever the two teams come together you can be sure of a dogfight.
The game ended 22-16 for England but the scoreline disguises some minor panic for the communications technicians. It all started in the 59th minute when referee Romain Poite pulled up with a calf strain. He was replaced by assistant referee Jerome Garces, also of France and Andrew Small took over as the second assistant referee. This was the first time that a referee was replaced in the middle of a Six Nations international and while the protocol for such a replacement is well understood and the switch performed flawlessly, the communications equipment started to malfunction immediately afterwards. As normal, I was located in the TV Director’s outside broadcast unit and there was no communications between this unit and the referee. Other problems existed on the field as the assistant referees couldn’t hear the referee either.
Fortunately England decided to change four players the next time that the ball went out of play and the technicians were able to change the on-field radios and batteries. However, while this restored communications from the referee and between the referee and his assistants, he couldn’t hear me. Losing communications isn’t a real issue unless a decision has to be referred to the TMO.
Scotland duly went over the line in the 74th minute. There was some doubt whether the ball was grounded correctly as it squirted away from the scorer, Max Evans, immediately afterwards. Jerome stopped play and referred the decision to the TMO. I could hear the question (“try or no try”), but couldn’t respond. All hell broke loose in the outside broadcast unit as the BBC attempted to restore the link but in the meantime a decision to award the try was made – the only problem was how to tell the referee. The BBC director told the floor manager (the person responsible for running coverage from the sideline) to tell the referee but Jerome didn’t know who this person was and quite correctly declined to accept a decision from him.
Before the game, Andrew Pearce, the number 5 official (all international and high-profile rugby matches have two replacement officials on the sideline; most of the time they control substitutions and temporary suspensions or as in this case, the number 4 goes on in the case of an injury) and I had exchanged mobile phone numbers and I called him to relay the decision. Jerome was happy to accept the information from Andrew and the try was awarded. While it was good to make the right decision, it was disappointing that we had to depend on a mobile phone – and I was lucky that we both used O2 as I’ve been told since that other phone providers don’t have a reliable signal around Twickenham.
Despite valiant efforts from Scotland, England closed the game out afterwards and now look forward to coming to Dublin on March 19 when they’ll attempt to win the Grand Slam. We’ll just have to see about that!