We look at the strange power French TV directors have on games in their country. This issue resurfaced during France versus Ireland in Marseille


French TV coverage of international matches is always a big talking point. Every year, it feels like we are faced with Television Match Officials having to wrestle with the pictures fed to them by the directors of the local coverage…

And this issue came to the fore again on Friday night, when the match officials were trying to clear up whether Paul Gabrillagues had burrowed over for a score following a driving maul. With the refs hoping for shots of the lock going over, they were treated to repeated replays of the maul itself, with TMO Ben Whitehouse heard saying: “I’m telling the director this is not what I want.”

Related: Six Nations crowd in Marseille treated to referee’s decision over tannoy

Well in 2022, we featured a Rant in the magazine about this, and judging by the reaction to it every season, it strikes a chord!

Here’s what was said back then.

The power of the director in French TV coverage

DURING THE Tigers-Saints Premiership semi-final (in 2022), there was a knock-on by Courtnall Skosan that was only picked up by a different camera angle. It meant Alex Mitchell’s try was correctly disallowed. That’s how good TV coverage – in this case, BT Sport – is meant to work for contentious moments: look at all the angles, see what happened, make an informed decision.

Unfortunately, French TV coverage can have a different agenda. At least when a French side plays someone from another country.

Take Lyon v Wasps, a Challenge Cup semi-final in May. Half an hour in, ball-carrier Leo Berdeu slipped and Malakai Fekitoa, unable to adjust in time, made a minor contact to the fly-half’s head. TMO Brian MacNeice dismissed the incident as fine, play on, but there followed nine replays, most of them in slow motion, by the French broadcaster.

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Each viewing on the big screen enabled the home crowd to boo and jeer with increasing fervour, piling huge pressure on Irish ref Frank Murphy to take action. He stood firm, correctly ruling that Fekitoa had tried to avoid contact and there was no foul play.

Fifty seconds into the second half, Josh Bassett was hit high by Lyon centre Charlie Ngatai – contact to the head. No replay, no crowd reaction, the game moved on in a flash. Two minutes later, Lyon broke out and Fekitoa caught Pierre-Louis Barassi with a cover tackle that slipped up from the shoulder. Cue another deluge of slow-motion replays and a cacophony of boos. “The crowd have done their role,” said co-commentator Johnnie Beattie.

Having initially deemed the incident not worthy of a second look, with Wasps awarded a lineout as Davit Niniashvili had put a foot in touch just before, Murphy was forced to review the incident.

French TV coverage

An unimpressed Davit Niniashvili (Getty Images)

Again, Murphy stuck to his guns. Credit to him, as well as to the other referees who back their judgement despite being subjected time and again to intimidation that is largely provoked by TV directors.

The fact remains, however, that incidents that might be favourable to French teams are highlighted ad nauseam. And incidents that could go against French teams are routinely ignored. Sale lost their Champions Cup tie at Racing but what might have happened had a high tackle on one of the du Preez boys been looked at in the second minute? Instead of being totally ignored by the host broadcaster.

Rugby’s powers should be doing something about all this. Because ‘selective’ television coverage across the Channel has been going on for years and is making a material difference to outcomes in European fixtures. And many would argue it is affecting Test matches in France as well.

This Rant first appeared in Rugby World magazine in July 2022.

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