Last December’s Championship clash between Newcastle Falcons and London Scottish was the debut fixture for Ref-cam. A small chest mounted camera worn by RFU referee Mathew Carley, this exciting new development sparked interest around the world, as fans and coaches alike were eager to see the outcome.
Many hoped to gain an insight into the elusive ‘dark arts’ of the sport, unspoken techniques used by players in rucks and scrums and away from public view. Feedback from the trial was fairly positive, however the camera’s position on the referee meant the shots were subsequently of the player’s chest or often, after the crouch phase, would miss the scrum entirely.
Never one to shy away from opinion, Brian Moore stated that “apart from nausea, Sky’s Ref-cam added nothing to the viewing experience”. Others disagreed and believed it offered a different perspective for viewers and, if nothing else, can be used as a training tool for referees.
When Australian Super 15 teams NSW Waratahs and Queensland Reds met in February, SANZAR trialled its version of Ref-cam with New Zealand referee Chris Pollock. The transmission from this version looked a lot more convincing than the northern hemisphere attempt, with the camera mounted on the referee’s earpiece and worn in addition to a transmitter unit fitted in a vest. This gave the viewer a far greater insight with the feed visible from eye level.
Ref-cam has the backing of league administrators SANZAR, with CEO Greg Peters confirming that he is “very supportive of the trial of this new technology” and SANZAR game manager Lyndon Bray describing the technology as having potential, “both for the fans, putting the game right into the living room, so to speak, which I think is really important in today's world in sport, but secondly for us, from an educational point of view and a coaching tool. I think it has got some great possibilities for us.”
As technology progresses so does the viewer’s expectations and in today’s game, where we already have referees wearing microphones and cameras in the changing rooms, it may well be that the next step forward is towards Ref-cam. Other sports have taken a similar route, with the so-called Stump-cam and third umpire in cricket, Hawk-Eye in tennis and the existing video referee in both rugby union and league.
Whatever the outcome, it is refreshing to see rugby at the forefront of technology, pioneering the usage for other sports to take note on a global scale. If Ref-cam does become a regular feature on our television screens and watching rugby from one’s armchair is more interactive than ever before, it will then raise the question; will this development lead to fewer people attending on match days?