With the Six Nations just days away, international rugby will once again take centre stage.

One of the things rugby union has implemented very well over the years is the use of replays for match decisions, with the official in charge of this called the Television Match Official, or TMO. We guide you through what exactly a TMO does and how to understand their decision-making when the on-field referee draws a square in the air.

Can the TMO intervene on any matter they like?

The TMO will watch the match on TV screens away from the immediate vicinity of the game, with access to Hawk-Eye camera angles. This gives them unmatched access to views of incidents which he can communicate with the on-field referee via earpiece. The TMO’s help is asked for by the referee and communicated to the crowd and watching audience by the on-field official drawing a box in the air, indicating the television.

While the TMO will watch the entire game, their role is normally restricted to two areas of the game; the scoring of a try and possible foul play. Their help with identifying the scoring of a try is dependent on the question asked by the on-field referee. It can either be ‘any reason why I cannot award the try?’ or ‘try, yes or no?’. This is important as it defines the parameters of what the TMO can look for.

If the question is ‘try, yes or no?’ then the TMO can find any infringement, or in some cases give the benefit of the doubt to the defending team in unclear situations. An example of this would be Sam Underhill’s disallowed try in the 2019 World Cup semi-final for England, whose effort against New Zealand was disallowed due to an infringement which may have affected the outcome, without perfect clarity.

The other question means the TMO needs to find irrefutable evidence that an infringement has been committed, or the player has stepped out of bounds or dropped the ball, otherwise the try will be given. Any uncertainty or unclear angles would not be enough to overturn the on-field decision.

Has the TMO improved the game?

Unlike VAR (video assistant referee), which has been met with widespread distaste in the Premier League this season, the TMO is widely viewed as a positive in the game of rugby. The conversation between the on-field referee and TMO is usually a two-way dialogue, with the correct decision being made regularly, with the TV replays shown on screens inside the stadium.

While certain incidents will remain in infamy due to the TMO decisions, the game regularly makes correct decisions, identifies foul play and produces games of the highest quality with the help of the Television Match Official.

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