Oval Talk

Premiership return dazzles and gives plenty to ponder

The opening weekend of the 2012-13 Aviva Premiership did not fail to deliver, by any stretch of the imagination.

Reigning champions Harlequins' incredible recovery from a 27-point deficit to win 42-40 against Wasps, Danny Cipriani's much-heralded return to English rugby commencing with a very sharp dose of reality in a 43-6 defeat for his Sale side against Exeter Chiefs, a single point separating victorious Bath and a disappointed Worcester at Sixways, and a very harsh introduction to life in the top flight for London Welsh give just a snapshot of some of the happenings in the first round of games.

One of the major talking points after the weekend amongst the media, fans and naturally clubs and players is the new Television Match Official (TMO) review system.

It's most apparent benefits (or hindrances, depending on one's receptiveness to what has been proposed as a logical progression in the way the game is policed) were in the spectacular Wasps v Quins encounter, with Wasps denied a try at a point in the game that would have put their advantage beyond the realistic realms of recovery.

The major gripe with regards to that scenario are the boundaries of how far back the play can be reviewed. Currently the limit is the last stoppage, which has laid the basis for fears that referees could dig deep into the build-up to a score with any number of phases of play open to scrutiny.

Thankfully common sense prevailed on the whole over the weekend, and with the system still being trialled there is room for manoeuvre and we could see more rigid parameters introduced. That's all part of the process.

In Saracens' mauling of London Irish yellow cards for Chris Ashton and Ofisa Treviranus were both the result of the TMO being called into play, so on the fair play aspect it was also a crucial part of proceedings.

Some will — and have begun to — complain that the employment of the TMO on a more frequent basis will interrupt the flow of the game and remove some of the human aspect of the decision-making process that has made rugby the passion-fuelled experience so loved by all. More credence should be given to referees who, by and large, are just as interested as fans and spectators in keeping the game flowing.

It will be a process of trial and error but over the weekend enough examples of the positive effects of the new system were witnessed to suggest that a little stop-start and adjustment in the early rounds may be a small price to pay for a better-regulated and ultimately fairer game.