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Rugby finds a winner in football’s World Cup

Football’s World Cup produced its fair share of good news stories, from Germany’s early exit to England’s run to the semi-finals for the first time since 1990, but the biggest winners of all could be rugby’s match officials.

The VAR system – video assistant referee – hogged almost as many headlines as Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Harry Kane, especially in the early rounds. And in almost every incident they looked like an inferior version of rugby’s TMO for officials, players and fans.

Its introduction in a high-profile sport awash with money seemed long overdue, but now the global game has dipped is toes in new waters.

We were told that VAR was available to “support the decision-making process of the referee in four game-changing situations” namely “goals and offences leading to a goal, penalty decisions and offences leading up to a penalty, direct red card incidents and mistaken identity”.

The VAR teams were located in a centralised studio in Moscow rather than operating as “the man in the car park” as Cockers used to describe it. This team, according to FIFA, consisted of the “video assistant referee and three assistant video referee assistants”. Don’t know about you, but I’m already in need of assistance here.

The TV commentary frequently mentioned incidents were subject to VAR while play continued, and once in a while the referee would scurry across to a screen behind the dug-outs to personally check contentious issues, including one in Sunday’s Final, while being advised by both sets of players on the way there and the way back on which decision he should make.

Criticism of the system was mostly based on the fact that the thousands in the stands and millions in front of TV screens did not always see what was being brought to the referee’s attention. Oh, and there was also the issue of all that checking and counter-checking, then the officials still coming to decisions that baffled everyone else.

Rugby referees, who have been through the teething issues of adopting such a game-changing new service, must have enjoyed watching their round-ball counterparts getting to grips with their new directives.

They probably also enjoyed the clarity of their own system in comparison.

If anything, seeing VAR in operation has strengthened The Tig’s faith in rugby’s TMO version as our officials make game-changing and potentially season-changing decisions in the full glare of the rugby public who see replays on screens in the stadium and can hear audio picked up on TV from referee and his assistant in the car park.  

There are some limitations, sure, mainly due to a finite number of camera angles available, but it can still teach football a thing or two.