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Ref cam, a new view on rugby


John Eales

Kane Douglas of the Waratahs soars high in the lineout on Saturday against the Reds in Brisbane.

Kane Douglas of the Waratahs soars high in the lineout on Saturday against the Reds in Brisbane. Photo: Getty Images

There used to be a saying among Parisians that the best view of Paris was from La Tour Eiffel. This wasn't hatched as praise for the magnificence of Gustave Eiffel's creation for the 1889 World's Fair but rather a veiled sledge, as the only place in Paris from which you couldn't see the “unsightly” tower was from the tower itself.

The rugged Queensland Reds versus NSW Waratahs match on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane, won 25-17 by the Reds, saw the innovation “ref cam” – where Chris Pollock was the first Super Rugby referee to have a camera attached to his head.

Is this now the best view of rugby – the only view from which you are guaranteed not to see the referee?

Admittedly, that's a bit hard on the refs and they already have an image problem with no easy fix. They are forever the butt of many – albeit mostly well-intentioned – jokes, to the extent that, in UK football and rugby, optometrists Specsavers sponsor them.

But in the spirit of television-led innovation despite some, at times, shaky pictures (it is difficult to get a referee who doesn't constantly shake his head from side to side, “No, you can't do this or that”) this is a good move from the Fox Sports team. Television has led some of the most important innovations in sport. In tennis, think hawk-eye; cricket, stump cam and the third umpire; in rugby and rugby league the video referee.

Innovation is about inventing something new but it can also be about finding new applications for old tools.

One of the best examples of innovation and progress is evidenced in the athletic pursuit of the high jump. The scissors led to the straddle and on to the western roll before Dick Fosbury developed his flop, which was anything but. The record advanced accordingly and it is now held by Cuban Javier Sotomayor, at an extraordinary height of 2.45 metres. Interestingly, with no further innovation, advancement has stalled and this record is 20 years old –the longest standing record in this event. The women's record of 2.09 metres, set by Bulgarian Stefka Kostadinova in 1987, is the longest-held record in that event.

One of the attractions of ref cam is that it brings the viewer into the heart of the scrum and its dark arts – the most misunderstood and feared, and in some cases loathed, part of the game.

A camera entering this sacred zone is akin to strapping a GoPro on George Pell when he joins the college of Cardinals in the conclave to elect the new pontiff. Now, that would be fascinating.

No matter the innovation, however, some will maintain that a scrum is still a scrum no matter how close you get to it. But if it gives the viewer greater insight and appreciation of such a specialised skill, they are on to a winner, as downtime becomes theatre.

It might not create the Shane Warne effect and have every child in Australia wanting to pack down for their country, nor do I see it putting props on the cover of Vogue or the emergence of a Hong Kong eights scrum festival, it does turn a potential negative into a positive.

Our few glimpses on Saturday had you wanting more. More use and a well-structured feedback loop will drive improvement.

And aside from opening up scrummaging to the world, ref cam also gave a different perspective in open play when Ed Quirk broke tackles and presented the ball for the Reds' match-sealing try.

If the average viewer had their own camera, however, curiosity would have set it on Israel Folau for his Super Rugby debut. An undoubted athletic talent – now having played at first-class level in three codes – Folau had an encouraging debut.

It is unrealistic to expect him to be a walk-up star. If you focused on his dropped balls and hesitancy in the tackle when Dom Shipperley scored the opening try, you wouldn't be enthralled. Equally, he didn't break through a solid Reds defensive line, but there was enough there to appreciate his ability.

I have only one main concern about ref cam: that rather than render referees invisible, it entices the odd one to see himself as Quentin Tarantino and write himself into the script with more than the role he has at present. The better muse for them may be Marcel Marceau, a star seen but not heard.

The Eiffel Tower's image has turned around and now it is the most visited paid monument in the world.

Will ref cam have a similar effect on rugby?

16 comments so far

  • Ealesy - your a genius. If they can show competitive eating on ESPN, surely they would have a spot for a scrum tournament. Although in fairness it would probably actually be a 9's tournament as that annoying little yappy bloke would need to be there to feed the ball.

    Date and time
    February 25, 2013, 11:03AM
    • Refcam = Spidercam's (very) poor cousin.
      Compared to what Spidercam and the 3D stop-go replays Channel9 had for the cricket this past summer, Refcam pales. Too much camera movement for one.

      Date and time
      February 25, 2013, 11:16AM
      • Yep, an interesting addition, but could have been used better.
        Around the water cooler (where all the best rugby is played) debate was how the ref missed a blatant trip on Drew Mitchell when chasing through a kick, despite the TV showing the ref being well positioned. A replay to show why the ref missed it (was he looking the wrong way, checking for offside etc at the time) or did it not look bad from his view would be a great addition to the game - as never mind the scrum, it would show light upon the dark arts of reffing !!!

        Date and time
        February 25, 2013, 12:22PM
        • Ha ha...loved the analogy of the Eiffel Tower and the 'head-cam' worn by Referees.

          Interesting first look using this lastest offering of innovative technology. I'm sure the TV production directors will be developing, at this very instance, a brace by which to attach to the Refs head. Thus enabling a more stable view for those Rugby supporters wanting privy to the machinations of the Rugby scrum and all it's mysticism.

          No 'tipping comp' for Rugby Heaven readers ? :(
          inner west sydney
          Date and time
          February 25, 2013, 12:41PM
          • yeah where is tipping comp????????
            I wrote a blog two weeks ago re this and criticised SMH..........guess what? no print of my comments! SMH is a poor supporter of RU. That comp cost $2500 for winner but gave a lot of enjoyment and discussions in ru community.not least because the "experts" were way behind the winner and about 100 other people (ok, modesty aside I was in top 10). The other winter codes have their phantom comps. The ARu has without doubt the worst marketing dept of all codes....summer and winter. Just pathetic. Oh and so far best games (as per last year) were played in NZ and no pushy pushy handbags despite 80 minutes ferocious defence in chiefs game. OZ conference is a yawnathon. games marketed as "fierce, no holds barred derbies". Yeah, right. And the crusaders have not even started! No doubt tahs will be the same......all marketing and no substance Will not make the final 6

            heading off
            villavicencio, Colombia
            Date and time
            February 25, 2013, 5:52PM
          • @ heading off

            I'll tell you where it's NOT !

            It was never about the prize money but the bragging rights.....just like your modest aside of telling the WORLD that you got in the Top 10.
            Geez....I thought I did OK by getting in the Top 100 ! Oh well, it's all just a distant memory now...gone are those chest thumping, fist thrusting moments when you picked an upset and you WON !
            @ heading must've picked the Tahs a lot last year ??

            Peoples' Front opposed to 'commercial types' ! <{:(`
            inner west sydney
            Date and time
            February 26, 2013, 8:21AM
        • this new view will also be useful for the referees panel when they review a refs game. It will enable them to see why he called or didn't call a penalty for instance by seeing the view he had of the game at the time.

          Date and time
          February 25, 2013, 12:53PM
          • Refcam has a way to go yet. They could only show images when the ref was standing still which is really only at scrum time. Perhaps it should be on his chest rather than his head or at least some anti-vibration mechanism fitted. The most interesting shots were when we saw the action go past the ref quite close.

            Date and time
            February 25, 2013, 1:04PM
            • "Hong Kong eights scrum festival" ......Brilliant ! Brilliant ! Brilliant !!!!!!!

              Date and time
              February 25, 2013, 2:54PM
              • this is a waste of time. leave the ref to referee the game. dont stick a gold ball on the side of his head affecting his ability to call the game.

                Date and time
                February 25, 2013, 4:57PM

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