Wayne Barnes weighs in on TMO debate and the ‘right way to improve’ rugby

Jared Wright
Referee Wayne Barnes during the Rugby World Cup 2023 final match at the Stade de France in Paris, France

Referee Wayne Barnes during the Rugby World Cup 2023 final match at the Stade de France in Paris, France

Former Test referee Wayne Barnes feels that the TMO bunker can improve rugby and that football’s VAR will get ‘better’.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup final referee has commented on rugby’s and football’s use of television match officials in a recent interview with Sky Sports following his retirement from officiating.

The bunker needs to be trialled more

World Rugby trialled the foul player review bunker, often referred to as the TMO bunker, ahead of the World Cup in France and implemented the system during the tournament.

The reasoning for the bunker’s implementation is to aid the flow of the game, allowing officials to make swift decisions with less time spent checking replays.

When the referee identifies an act of foul play that meets the yellow card threshold, they will issue the card and send the incident to be reviewed by the foul play officer, who then has eight minutes to decide whether the incident should be upgraded to a red or remain a yellow card.

Fellow former referee Nigel Owens urged World Rugby to ditch the concept after the 2023 World Cup, arguing that “those key decisions should be the man in the middle.” Meanwhile, former All Black coach Sir Steve Hansen said that “it’s time to sack the TMO” and bunker systems.

Barnes admitted that the bunker is not perfect but disagreed with Owens and Hansen as he feels that the system will “improve the game”.

“I think it is at the early stages, we need to trial it more,” Barnes told Sky Sports.

“The bunker system needs more time to evolve, but it is the right way to improve the game.”

The bunker came into play on three occasions during the World Cup final, with Shannon Frizell’s clearout on Bongi Mbonambi remaining a yellow card while Siya Kolisi’s tackle on Ardie Savea was also not upgraded.

However, the bunker did upgrade Sam Cane’s yellow card after his dangerous tackle on Jesse Kriel, as he became the first male player to be sent off in a World Cup final.

VAR will get better

Meanwhile, football’s VAR (video assistant referee) has come under similar scrutiny from fans, pundits and managers, but Barnes believes that it will evolve.

“Rugby has been using TMO for close to 20 years now, and it has had different iterations from the start when it was just about tries but now we look at foul play, we look at forward passes and technicalities in the lead up to a try, that has evolved, and we’ve got better at that,” Barnes said.

“We’ve learnt from other sports. Football is only two years into that journey. So they are still working out what we need to out, what are the important issues. How do we get it right? How do we make sure the communication structure is correct?

“We will see that evolution of VAR, and we will see get better and better. [Chief refereeing officer] Howard Webb is constantly looking at ways of improving it, and we will see that gradual improvement.”

READ MORE: World Rugby admit officiating error against the All Blacks in World Cup final – report