Rugby's relatively new TMO bunker is under the spotlight after an independent disciplinary committee rescinded Owen Farrell's upgraded red card

The effectiveness of the TMO bunker in rugby was called into question after England’s Owen Farrell had his red card for a dangerous tackle on Taine Basham rescinded.

A Television Match Official (TMO) upgraded Farrell’s card from on-field yellow to red in what has become known as the ‘bunker’. But an independent Six Nations disciplinary committee ruled that there was enough mitigation to drop the sanction back to yellow.

Okay, stop there. What’s a TMO bunker?

It’s an area, away from crowds and other interference, where dedicated TMOs review incidents of foul play and decide whether it merits a red card. It’s known as the ‘bunker’. 

How does it work?

For any incident in which a red card is not immediately obvious, the referee issues a yellow card, and dedicated reviewers examine the incident using “all available technology and footage”.

To signal a bunker review after showing a yellow card, the on-pitch referee crosses their forearms above their head.

Related: “Absolute disgrace” – all the reaction as Owen Farrell cleared to play

During the ten minutes of the yellow card sanction, TMO bunker officials can confirm to the referee whether it should be upgraded to red. The referee then shows a red card to the player on the sideline.

If the TMO in the bunker decides yellow is sufficient, the player returns after their ten-minute sanction is complete.

Sounds sensible…

Indeed. It was trialled in Super Rugby Pacific this season, and used in the World Rugby U20 Championship. It worked well enough to be extended into the World Cup warm-up matches, and is going to the World Cup proper.

So, what’s gone wrong?

Officially, nothing. The Six Nations’ disciplinary committee in Farrell’s case made the point that, “no criticism is made of the Foul Play Review Officer, nor would any be warranted”.  

Related: “Getting away with…” – Listen to George Ford slip-up after Farrell cleared

It went on. “Unlike the Foul Play Review Officer the Committee had the luxury of time to deliberate and consider, in private, the incident and the proper application of the Head Contact Process.  

“The Committee believe[s] this is in contrast to the Foul Play Review Officer, who was required to make his decision in a matter of minutes without the benefit of all the additional material including hearing from the player and his legal representative.”

But commentators have suggested that, in saying that, “the Committee concluded that the Foul Play Review Officer was wrong, on the balance of probabilities, to upgrade the yellow card issued to the player to a red card”, the committee – in fact – had effectively put the TMO bunker system in the dock.

What happens now, then?

World Rugby can appeal against the Farrell decision…

No, we meant with the TMO bunker

It should continue as planned. New innovations frequently encounter early issues, but the overall consensus – despite this card being rescinded – is that the bunker works very well. 

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