Why World Rugby is calling the fans’ bluff with its bunker mentality

One thing’s for sure after the Rugby World Cup in France: many fans aren’t going to see their sport in the same light again, thanks to the bunker.

No, not the bunker mentality, of the England kind, to eke out wins, but the TMO’s high-tech man cave. Like it or not, TMOs will come into play more than they have ever done. It’s not a case of if it’ll happen, but when.

In fact, it may be a role reversal where the TMO and techno geeks will become the conductors of the orchestra unfolding in the rugby union arena.

The “rock-and-roll” gadget geezers will overshadow the whistleblower who will mutate into the symbolic role of a governor-general performing ceremonial duties.

The Bunker wallahs will assume the mantle of parliamentarians, tapping jog wheels and tag pads on split screens to make sense of acts while the viewers will groan. Yep, the TMO will be prime minister.

For those who cuss every time the ref blows his whistle — before the AR1 and AR2 flank him — for digital intervention from the TMO’s lofty perch, it’ll become the norm.

No matter what corner fans favour, they’ll appreciate the value of that half yellow/red card as the show goes on. The bunker will milk it for hang time. Now, that’s total fan engagement.

From the time the offending player’s bottom hits the naughty chair, the bunker has ten minutes to determine if the act has breached the standards of recklessness. Are there any “mitigating factors”?

The player/coaching stable will sweat bullets on every second of the deliberation, scrambling for plans B and C. On receiving the TMO’s feedback on the earpiece, the referee will wait for a break in play to relay the news.

Siya Kolisi tackles Ardie Savea. (Photo by David Ramos – World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

You see, it’s not a novel concept. The Roman emperors used such tactics at the colosseums, even before the BC era. A condescending thumbs down/up was used to send the great unwashed into ruptures on the fate of gladiators.

Slow on the uptake, World Ruby is beginning to recognise the bunker’s worth. Actually, the credit should go to its poorer cousins, rugby league. It comes with the realisation that the pragmatics don’t yearn for perfection. They simply want consistency. Perfection is mythical.

Easier said than done. Parallel decisions will keep the four-point control on its toes. The ref can’t turn his back on one team while watching the other side like a hawk. It’s not far-fetched to do what the NRL does — have a whistle-blower in each half.

“Unconscious bias” will remain for “the good”. Its conscious, entrenched trait will make parochial fans spew tacks on a TMO’s perception of culpability — cynical? Malicious? Reckless?

YouTube is now littered with “analytical gurus” highlighting and accentuating slow-motion replays to apply laws to discredit refs as “Is this the worst-ever officiating?” The bunker will rise above them.

The smart bird’s-eye view will become the domain of the TMO. When a captain starts badgering a ref with an alternative view, there’s the imminent danger of holding up play but the geeks will negate that.

Massive moment.

Sam Cane’s yellow is upgraded to red! The All Blacks skipper’s #RWCFinal is done.

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— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) October 28, 2023

From the players’ perspective, there’s such a thing as gamesmanship (not to be confused with sportsmanship) where they’ll skirt the boundaries to push the officials’ limits of interpretation.

For argument’s sake, unofficial video analysts will paint a halfback as a victim when, in reality, he has a penchant for milking penalties by rifling his passes into retreating opponents or the ref.

Is that cheating or gamesmanship? The officials’ portfolio will demand accountability and transparency. The bunker will enter the domain of psychiatrists. Those who think rugby union is free of Hollywood acts … think again.

Grinning, no-arms tackle merchants’ facial expressions will speak volumes. A poker face will help. Anyone contemplating faking an injury to put an opponent under a yellow-card cloud will have to be a convincing actor.

For the it-ain’t-Tiddlywinks-brigade, the head injury assessment (HIA) protocol will become non-negotiable. Professional clubs will question the roles of hitmen on national duties against their contracted players.

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World Rugby will need to walk a tightrope to ensure it doesn’t lose its balancing act. No doubt, bolstering the bunker will be its insurance cover. Players will leave in droves? Nah. It’s too exciting.

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