After Sam Underhill's disallowed try that denied England victory over the All Blacks, Rugby World looks at other TMO controversies that have affected the men in white…
TMO controversies involving England
England were denied probable victory against New Zealand after a contentious late call by the Television Match Official (TMO) led to Sam Underhill’s ‘winning try’ being disallowed.
It’s the latest in a long line of TMO controversies – and there will be many more to come. Human error, or human accuracy, is part and parcel of the game and doesn’t it give us lots to talk about! Here are seven TMO incidents from down the years just involving England…
England v South Africa, 2007
England lose out
The grand daddy of TMO controversies because it occurred in a World Cup final that, at that stage of the match, was still in the balance.
England were trailing 9-3 soon after half-time when Mathew Tait made a great line break to get within five metres of the Springboks line. Going to the short side, Jonny Wilkinson flicked a pass out for Mark Cueto to dive over in the corner – under pressure from No 8 Danie Rossouw’s despairing tackle.
The decision was referred to TMO Stuart Dickinson and, thanks to a communication breakdown with French TV producers, took an age to arrive. The Australian finally decided Cueto’s foot had brushed the touchline before the ball was grounded.
“As a player you generally know when you are in or not. For me, it was 100% a try,” said Cueto in the aftermath of that 15-6 defeat for England at the Stade de France.
“My foot came off the ground as I went over the line. I was amazed when it wasn’t awarded – I couldn’t believe it. At that stage we were six points behind. It would have taken us to within one. Wilko would probably have converted it and we’d have been a point up. Neither team was that close to scoring throughout the game so that could have been it really.”
The passage of time hasn’t changed his mind. More recently the former Sale wing said: “It was the early days of TMO. I’ve seen far less obvious sorts of tries given. In any other game, I’m convinced it would have been given.”
England v Australia, 2017
In England’s favour
It doesn’t take much to wind up Michael Cheika and last autumn he was practically frothing at the mouth after three TMO calls went against his side.
Australia had two tries ruled out on review while TMO Simon McDowell took four minutes to decide that Elliot Daly’s try could stand, deeming that the ball hadn’t grazed the touchline before he gathered it.
The decision to rule out Marika Koroibete’s try on 69 minutes, with England clinging to a 13-6 lead, so enraged Wallaby coach Cheika that he was seen to shout “f***ing cheats”, for which he received a warning from the Disciplinary Officer for the Autumn Internationals.
Koroibete was turtled over the try-line by a last-ditch Chris Robshaw tackle. An extended roll by the Wallaby suggested he got the ball down but, after numerous replays, it was decided that Stephen Moore had obstructed Robshaw from making a “clean tackle”.
To rub salt in the wound, a flurry of late points gave England a 30-6 victory. Asked if England were lucky, Eddie Jones said: “How are we lucky? Why do we have referees? Why do we have television match officials? They do ten replays of the video and they make a decision.”
England v Scotland, 2007
In England’s favour
Jonny Wilkinson’s comeback match at the start of the 2007 Six Nations – after a 1,169-day absence because of injuries – went like a dream. His 27 points that day, in a 42-20 victory, remains an individual record for a Calcutta Cup match.
His try that day, however, was described by Scotland coach Frank Hadden as a “farce”. Contrary to the verdict of TMO Donal Courtenay, video evidence showed that Wilkinson had gone into touch before grounding the ball.
“What’s the point of having a TMO if they get it so horribly wrong?” said Hadden. “It’s hugely irritating. It’s not humanly possible to make that mistake. It was so obviously wrong.”
Wilkinson admitted that he hadn’t been sure if it had been a legitimate try. “When I went over in the corner I felt it was touch and go with getting the ball down and my foot down,” said the fly-half. “That is what the video ref is for. Hopefully it was a try. I am not one for accepting things otherwise.”
Incidentally, the referee for that match was South African Marius Jonker, the TMO involved in the Sam Underhill disallowed try incident at the weekend.
South Africa v England, 2000
England lose out
England’s drawn series in South Africa early in this millennium was seen as the first significant staging post towards the 2003 World Cup triumph. It might have been even better for Clive Woodward’s men because in the first Test in Pretoria, lost 18-13, England were denied in controversial fashion.
Trailing 15-10, Mike Catt put in a cross-kick that looked certain to be collected and touched down by Tim Stimpson. As the right-wing reached for the ball, he was clattered by Boks captain Andre Vos. Penalty try!
But no, because TMO Mark Lawrence ruled that Stimpson’s fingers were touching the ball as the tackle came in. He awarded a knock-on.
Woodward initially argued that Stimpson was tackled without the ball but later said: “I just watched it again and to be fair I can see why he didn’t give it. I still think it was a try but I can see why he technically ruled that way.
“The key point is the moment that Vos tackled him, the ball is touching Tim’s hand. When you freeze the frame, it is touching his hand. I still think on the whole that it is a penalty try and that the referee would have given it if he didn’t have the TV ref.
“The law says that when you tackle, the player must be in control of the ball but I don’t think Tim was in control of the ball.”
Disgruntled, England hit back to win the second Test 27-22 in Bloemfontein.
England v New Zealand, 2018
England lose out
England’s first meeting with the All Blacks in more than four years lived up to the hype, with the teams separated by a point as the game reached the final minutes.
Then Courtney Lawes charged down a kick by TJ Perenara and Sam Underhill seized the ball and sold Beauden Barrett a dummy to score a try that brought the house down.
Ah, hold on. Rugby’s TMO system can be the ultimate party-pooper and, after an agonising delay, Marius Jonker decided that Lawes was offside when he rushed towards Perenara to make his crucial intervention.
“He was just about in the half-back’s back pocket,” said All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, agreeing with the decision.
Others, such as the succinct Austin Healey, begged to differ – see this post on the incident.
England coach Eddie Jones hit the right note in the post-match press conference. “Sometimes the game loves you and sometimes the game doesn’t love you.
“You must accept that if you stay in the fight long enough, the game will love you. And we’re prepared to stay in the fight, so we’ll get some love from the game further down the track.”
In other words, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth.
England v Wales, 2018
In England’s favour
Another incident involving Jérôme Garcès, referee for England’s 16-15 loss to the All Blacks.
England led Wales 12-0 in this year’s Six Nations clash when, in the 24th minute, Rhys Patchell’s deflected attacking kick saw Gareth Anscombe and Anthony Watson in a desperate foot race to touch down the spinning ball.
It was too tight to call on initial viewing but replays showed that Anscombe’s hand had got there first. However, TMO Glenn Newman ruled that the Welsh full-back hadn’t controlled the ball. England went to win 12-6.
“I still can’t understand why the TMO didn’t give the try to Anscombe,” complained Wales coach Warren Gatland afterwards. “The wording was the grounding wasn’t clear, but we’ve had a look at it from a few angles and you can clearly see he has his hand on the ball.
“That’s a big moment in the game, especially to get it wrong in front of 82,000 people.”
World Rugby later admitted the decision was wrong, which prompted an irritated response from England coach Eddie Jones. “You can’t have retrospective refereeing. The game’s done and dusted, so we’ve got to trust the referees and respect their integrity,” he said.
England v South Africa, 2018
In England’s favour
England could be two wins from two this autumn or, just as easily, no wins from two. In the opening Quilter International, as South Africa sought the score they needed to win the match at the death, André Esterhuizen was carrying the ball when he was brought to an abrupt halt by Owen Farrell’s thumping tackle.
The ball went loose and England kicked it out and celebrated a 12-11 success. But hang on, was the tackle legal? It looked suspect, to say the least.
Referring the incident ‘upstairs’ to TMO Olly Hodges, referee Angus Gardner was able to look again on the big screen. He decided there was enough of an attempt by Farrell to wrap his arm. No penalty, so no opportunity for Handre Pollard to try to kick the winning goal.
Opinion was divided, as you can imagine. “To me it was and remains the clearest of penalties. Straight shoulder, penalty,” wrote Stuart Barnes. “Patriotic English fans talked of an attempt to ‘wrap’ the other arm but the left arm was nowhere near on contact. I suggest that officials stop using the word ‘attempt’. There either is or there isn’t.”
Many disagreed, such as former Wales centre Tom Shanklin…