RFU likely to keep faith with TMO at centre of ‘hot mic’ controversy

Christophe Ridley (L) - RFU referees' body says Austin Healey did not influence TMO call but admit 'regrettable' blunder
Referee Christophe Ridley (left) was advised to let the foul play on Owen Farrell go unpunished - Getty Images/Andrew Kearns

Stuart Terheege, the television match official at the centre of the ‘hot mic’ controversy when alleged foul play appeared to be overlooked because it had been highlighted by a commentator, is set to be on duty again in the Premiership this weekend.

‌The Rugby Football Union was keen to move on from the incident on Tuesday, after their professional game match officials team found that Terheege had not been influenced by TNT Sports co-commentator Austin Healey when reviewing a reckless challenge by Harlequins flanker Stephen Lewies on Saracens captain Owen Farrell last Saturday.

‌Terheege was heard over the hot mic saying “the problem I have got now is that it looks like Austin has instigated it, because we’re late, so I don’t want to talk about it, OK?”

‌After a replay of the incident was later shown by TNT Sports, Terheege, with his microphone turned on, could then be heard saying, presumably to the TV match director, “Oh come on, don’t show it because it...” before his microphone was either cut off or Terheege realised he was being overheard on the broadcast.

‌The review admitted that it was a “regrettable incident” and that Terheege had been “disappointed that he allowed himself to be distracted with interactions with the broadcast team and did not communicate his decision to the on-field match officials.”

‌But overall the conclusion was that it was a freak TV blooper, not one that requires an overhaul of the TMO system or its relationship with the host broadcasters.

‌Further steps are to be taken to ensure that the TMOs are prevented from overhearing match commentary where possible. But a clear decision was taken that broadcasting the TMO’s comments when reviewing incidents is preferable to the anonymity of the decision-making process of football’s VAR.

‌The investigation into the incident found that Terheege asked the TNT Sports Director for clips around the incident to review in the background before deciding whether to call an official review into the foul play incident, or not, and also simultaneously checking on the grounding of a try by Juan Martín Gonzalez.

‌But the PGMOT review claimed that Terheege had not requested to review the incident again because he was “confident in his original decision”, having reviewed the clips the first time.

‌“In relation to the act of foul play committed by Stephen Lewies against Owen Farrell, the TMO saw the initial contact off the ball,” said the statement. “He decided on the evidence that it was no more than a penalty advantage. As Saracens went onto score, that advantage was deemed to have been taken, so no further action was required.

‌“In response to Stuart’s initial request for images the director asked the TMO if he wanted to look again at the incident. The TMO declined, as he was confident in his original decision. At the same time, the TNT Sports commentary team also saw the replays and posed the question whether Lewies’ actions warranted a review.

‌“The conversation between TMO and Director that was broadcast ‘live’ was regrettable, they were not intended to be heard outside of the broadcast truck nor were they the reason for the foul play incident not being formally reviewed.

‌“TMOs do not actively listen or react to the broadcast commentary team. TMOs make their decisions independently, based on their own judgment, experience, and in line with agreed World Rugby protocols. However, due to their location at the matches, they sometimes overhear commentary.

‌“The incident was an unusual and unfortunate occurrence. The PGMOT, Premiership Rugby and TNT Sports are working closely together to make sure this does not happen again.”

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