Austin Healey's words on TNT Sports appeared to influence decision-making in Saracens' win over Harlequins

The RFU has denied that the TMO’s decision not to review foul play was influenced by commentator Austin Healey in Saracens’ win over Harlequins, despite a “regrettable” live conversation suggesting so.

The PGMOT (Professional Game Match Officials Team) has come to the defence of TMO Stuart Terheege insisting he had already decided that the incident – which saw Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies clear out his counterpart late and away from the ball – was not more than a penalty and as Saracens scored through Juan Martin Gonzalez there was no need to look at it further.

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The controversy stemmed from the fact that Terheege could be heard telling referee Christophe Ridley: “The problem I have got now of course is it looks like Healey has instigated it, yeah?” He then added after a pause: “Yeah, mate, 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?”

On social media after the game, which finished 52-7, Healey wrote: “Think the TMO has had better days, looks like ego got in the way of ruling on foul play.” The RFU insists the TMO does not actively listen to the broadcast commentary but due to proximity may overhear it.

Full PGMOT statement on TMO Healey controversy

The Professional Game Match Officials Team (PGMOT) regret that questions have been raised about player safety and decision-making. Match officials take player welfare incredibly seriously and it is their overriding priority.

At the time of the Gonzalez try, the Television Match Official (TMO), Stuart 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.

This is a common request from TMO to Director, that occurs in rugby broadcasting to enable the TMO to decide whether an official review is required. Simultaneously, the TMO also checked the grounding on the Saracens try.

In relation to the act of foul play committed by Stephen Lewies against Owen Farrell, the TMO saw the initial contact off the ball. 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.

TNT Sports’ audio directors can cut to the TMO if there is a moment when viewers would benefit from their insight in their decision-making. At this juncture, some of the conversation between the TMO and Match Director with regards to the replays requested and whether an official review was needed were broadcast ‘live’.
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.

Terheege is 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.

TMOs do not actively listen or react to the broadcast commentary team. TMOs make their decisions independently, based on their own judgement, experience, and in line with agreed World Rugby protocols. However, due to their location at the matches, they sometimes overhear commentary. The nature of the audio configuration in some broadcast trucks and in some stadiums means the working environment varies from match to match.

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. The three organisations enjoy a close and positive working relationship based on a mutually beneficial system that has worked for many years. All parties will continue to work hard to further refine and perfect systems to ensure player safety and high-quality rugby.

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