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VIDEO – Expanded TMO role and concussion protocols in Premiership

20 August 2012

  • Aviva Premiership trials expanded TMO role this season
  • Pitch Side Concussion Assessment rules also altered

Aviva Premiership Rugby has been chosen by the International Rugby Board (IRB) to trial two new, and significant, changes to rugby union this season, one involving the Television Match Official and the other a system of Pitch Side Concussion Assessment for players.

Professional rugby union in England is championing the use of greater video technology and putting player welfare at the top of the agenda and the trial will start with the London Double Header at Twickenham Stadium on September 1, when London Wasps take on Harlequins and Saracens host London Irish.

The trials have been developed by the IRB over the past six months in collaboration with Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Football Union and form part of a wider strategy devised by the IRB aimed at player welfare and enhancing the role of the TMO.

“We have a reputation for innovation and this is another example of how both Premiership Rugby and the RFU is the forefront of the game’s development,” said Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby.

“We volunteered to be involved in both trials. The TMO trial in live televised games allows us to maintain the integrity of our competition by ensuring that the match officials are given the utmost support in getting crucial decisions right.

RFU Referee David Rose officiating during an Aviva Premiership match

Photo: Getty Images

"We are extremely mindful about ensuring that we achieve a balance between protecting the integrity of the game and impacting on the dynamic nature of our sport by creating too many stoppages in play. This will be closely managed, with a thorough research programme undertaken by Premiership Rugby and the RFU.

“The Pitch Side Concussion Assessment trial allows medical teams more time and a better environment to assess head injuries and to make player centred decisions.”

RFU Professional Rugby Director Rob Andrew said: “Once again the professional game in England is a global leader in game management and player welfare and these trials will I am sure benefit the game in all its aspects - playing, coaching, officiating and spectating. We are delighted that the IRB has sanctioned these trials which will be thoroughly reviewed and analysed at the end of the season to measure the wider impact on our game.”

England and Harlequins captain Chris Robshaw at Aviva Premiership launch with the 11 other club captains

Photo: Getty Images

The new TMO protocol will also be trialled in South Africa’s premier domestic tournament, the Currie Cup, and IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: “I would like to thank the RFU, SARU and PRL for enabling these trials to take place in two prestigious, elite competitions and all of our Unions for their commitment to continually reviewing this area of the Game in order that we can promote improved accuracy of decision-making in Rugby.”

Trial One – Television Match Official

This trial, which has been supported by the RFU’s Laws Sub Committee and the TMO Steering Group, will take place in all matches shown live on either ESPN or Sky Sports, and allow the match referee to refer to the TMO incidents that have led to the scoring of a try at any point from the last stoppage in play. In addition, the TMO will be able to intervene in incidents of foul play.

The full TMO trials are as follows:

  1. TMO may be referred to as per the current application as well as:
  2. When match officials are unsure whether foul play has occurred anywhere on the field or in-goal
  3. When match officials believe there may have been an infringement by the team that scored a try
  4. When match officials believe a try was prevented by an infringement
  5. To confirm the success or otherwise of kicks at goal

Infringements listed by the IRB include knock-ons, forward passes, player in touch, off-sides, obstructions, tackling a player without the ball, foul play and double movement in the act of scoring.

How does TMO adjudicate?

  • When asked to intervene by the referee (except for incidents of significant foul play where the TMO can ask the referee to stop the game)
  • Referrals can now go back to the previous restart, i.e. penalty kick, free kick, lineout, scrum, kick-off
  • If it is not clear, the TMO is to advise there is no clear evidence and the referee will need to make a decision
  • TMO to advise on the type of infringement, the recommended sanction and where play is to restart
  • TMOs can be advised on infringements by the team that scored or touched down, as well as if a try has been prevented from being scored
  • If there is doubt as to whether the try would have been scored the TMO must then advise the appropriate sanction
  • If foul play is referred, the TMO is to make recommendations as to the appropriate sanctions, as an assistant referee can currently do.

RFU Head of Professional Referee Development Ed Morrison: “The modern game is fast-paced and action-packed and it is important that our officials are equipped with the best tools to ensure that sometimes critical incidents are observed and acted upon. The referee is in charge of the game but him and his assistants to be able to draw on the TMO in such circumstances will help us maintain the high standards of officiating that we have in the Aviva Premiership.”

Live Television Matches in Aviva Premiership Rugby

Round 1

Sat 1st Sep – 2pm - London Wasps Harlequins - ESPN
Sat 1st Sep – 4.30pm - Saracens London Irish - ESPN
Sun 2nd Sep – 2pm - London Welsh Leicester Tigers - Sky Sports

Round 2

Sat 8th Sep – 2.15pm - Bath Rugby London Wasps - ESPN
Sat 8th Sep – 4.30pm - Sale Sharks Saracens - ESPN
Sun 9th Sep – 3pm -Northampton Saints Exeter Chiefs - Sky Sports

Trial Two – Pitch Side Concussion Assessment

This trial of a five-minute temporary replacement and standardised assessment for players with suspected concussion will take place in all Premiership matches and follows successful initial trials in this year's IRB Junior World Championship and IRB Junior World Rugby Trophy events.  

The PSCA protocols were developed by an IRB working group consisting of experienced international team physicians, including Dr Simon Kemp and RFU Community Medical Director Dr Mike England, a player representative, a French neurosurgeon and an Australian physician with a PhD in concussion.

When developing the protocols, the group were asked to ensure the protocols would improve player safety, not undermine the fabric of the game and not be open to tactical manipulation by coaches.

A PSCA can be requested by the player’s team doctor and the match referee if they suspect that a player may have suspected concussion.

Signs of suspected concussion:

  • Suspected Loss of Consciousness
  • Ataxia (unsteady on feet)
  • Disorientated or confused
  • Player appears to have been "dazed, dinged or had their bell rung"
  • Inappropriate behaviour
  • Other symptoms or signs suggesting a suspected concussion

Note that players in whom concussion is deemed to be confirmed at the time of their initial on pitch assessment (confirmed loss of consciousness by a medical practitioner or medical practitioner witnessed concussive convulsions or tonic-clonic posturing) will be definitively removed from the field of play.

Should the match referee have concerns regarding the wellbeing of a player he should prompt the team doctor by asking “Do you think the player requires a PSCA?”

An opposition Team Doctor is NOT Allowed to request a PSCA on an opposing player.

The PSCA is to be performed at an agreed and appropriate position prior to the game. This will typically be the medical room but an alternative location can be agreed if the medical room is not quickly accessible from the pitch.

A PSCA shall be confirmed by the Match Referee to the Reserve Official via his communication device and by the hand signal – head touched on three occasions.

A player undergoing a PSCA can be temporarily substituted whilst the PSCA is completed. If the player undergoing a PSCA does NOT Return to the field of play the substitution becomes a permanent one

The temporary substitute may not take a penalty kick at goal or conversion.

The PSCA must be completed in five minutes (actual time). This period commences when the player leaves the field of play at the half way line and finishes when the player present himself to the Reserve Official cleared to return to play. The Match Referee and Reserve Referee will manage the players return to the field of play. 

The PSCA involves a standardised assessment of cognition (memory) using the Maddocks Questions, balance assessment by way of a 20second tandem stance balance test and a symptoms and signs assessment.

The presence of one or more symptoms, one incorrect Maddock’s question, more than four errors on balance testing in 20 seconds and the presence of one or more signs constitute an Abnormal PSCA, Concussion is confirmed and the player is definitively removed from further participation in the game. 

A player who satisfactorily completes his PSCA and in whom suspected concussion is therefore not confirmed can return to the field of play within the five minutes

If a player has a suspected concussion and a co-existing blood injury control of the bleeding will be the priority however the PSCA must be completed as soon as possible. If the bleeding can be controlled, suturing should be completed post PSCA. The total time available is 15 minutes to complete both the PSCA and control of bleeding.

A player failing to cooperate with a PSCA should be assumed to have concussion and be removed permanently from the game.

If a player has a second requested PSCA during a game the player should undergo a second PSCA as a separate and independent assessment. 

The PSCA Trial will be independently evaluated by the University of Bath

“Concussion management is an area of rugby medicine that has attracted much attention over the last few years across the global game,” said Simon Kemp.

“The 2011 IRB Medical Conference specifically identified difficulties around the on-pitch assessment of the player with suspected concussion as a major concern for the game of rugby union globally, particularly at the elite level. 

“Consistently identifying players with confirmed concussion and removing them from the field of play to prevent their exposure to further head impacts is a real challenge. Both the limited time available and the in-game environment where the player is typically focussed on the next play rather than a medical assessment are obstacles to implementing best practice.  The PSCA process will allow us to address an important player welfare and safety issue whilst maintaining the fabric of the game by keeping 15 players on the pitch and minimising any chance for manipulation.

“Effectively assessing the player with suspected concussion typically involves asking five memory questions (Maddocks Questions), testing their balance over 20 seconds and establishing whether they have any of a specified set of symptoms or signs.

“To do this requires an environment where the player can concentrate fully on the assessment and sufficient time to complete all elements of the assessment. Being able to temporarily remove the player from the field will allow medical practitioners to perform a more sophisticated assessment than presently and better decisions to be made.

“The independent evaluation will allow us to assess the effectiveness of the trial and the sensitivity and specificity of the assessment tool. The standardised evaluation process should also ensure consistent delivery of post game concussion management and treatment.”  

Alongside these two trials supporters need to be aware of a new scrum engagement process across the whole game. The change relates to the engagement sequence and will see the referee call “crouch” then “touch” and then “set” to engage the scrum. 

The front rows must comply with each step of this process and crouch (on the call of “crouch”) then touch using the outside arm of each prop (on the call of “touch”) and then engage on the call of “set”, removing the word “pause” from the sequence

Law Amendments

In addition to the trials there are law amendments for the 2012-13 season:

The five law amendments to be trialled globally are:

  1. Law 16.7 (Ruck): The ball has to be used within five seconds of it being made available at the back of a ruck with a warning from the referee to “use it”. Sanction – scrum.
  2. 19.2 (b) (Quick Throw-In) For a quick throw in, the player may be anywhere outside the field of play between the line of touch and the player’s goal line.
  3. 19.4 (who throws in) When the ball goes into touch from a knock-on, the non-offending team will be offered the choice of a lineout at the point the ball crossed the touch line; or a scrum at the place of the knock-on. The non-offending team may exercise this option by taking a quick throw-in.
  4. 21.4 Penalty and free kick options and requirements: Lineout alternative. A team awarded a penalty or a free kick at a lineout may choose a further lineout, they throw in. This is in addition to the scrum option.
  5. A conversion kick must be completed within one minute 30 seconds from the time that a try has been awarded.