What Happens when you give Technology a Try

I’m going to be quite up front with you here…unlike the rest of the excellent blogs on here, there isn’t a great deal of thought provoking prose in this particular post.

As per the frank revelations in my biog, I’ll mainly write about sport or beer…or both

This is very much about the former…over which I may have enjoyed a few of the latter!

The subject of this blog is Technology in Sport, specifically the impact it had in capping off an excellent season for Northampton Saints for whom we are their Official Technology Partners.

For the first time in their history, Northampton Saints were crowned English Rugby Union Champions last weekend.

The Saints, as they’re affectionately known, finished the 2013-2014 Aviva Premiership Table in 2nd place, beating overall league toppers Saracens 24-20 in a nail-biting Play-Off Final at Twickenham.

Saracens and Northampton have arguably been the two most consistent teams in the English Top Tier of Rugby Union this year. The Play-Off Final was the second cup final in the space of eight days for each team, after an unsuccessful Heineken Cup Final attempt by Saracens, and a European Challenge Cup win for Northampton.

So the insatiable appetite of the Rugby Union Fan’s desire to witness top, home-grown rugby was bound to be satisfied with the clash of these two giants.

Regardless of which team actually finished the league on top, this is a Cup Final so anything could happen…and boy did it!

There were a couple of key moments that shaped the outcome of the game and technology (aka the Television Match Official, or TMO) was involved in both.

Midway through the second half with the game poised at 14-9 to The Saints, Saracens levelled the score with a try from Boy Wonder Owen Farrell. The ref gave it. The Saracens celebrated. Farrell celebrated a little too hard kicking the ball away in delight, ironically injuring himself in the process and putting a premature end to his Cup Final.

But Technology had something to say. The TMO highlighted there was a forward pass in the lead up to the score, rendering the try disallowable. Adding further insult to the literal injury picked up by one of Saracens’ top players.

Moments before full time and after a prolonged period of attacking pressure, Saracens finally added a try to their score levelling things at 14-14. Farrell’s injury replacement Charlie Hodgson sent the potential match winning conversion smashing into the upright, and after a couple of fraught minutes the full time whistle blew with the scores level.

The first time the Premiership Play-Off Final has ever ended in a draw.

So, in a scenario all too familiar for the English Football Fan, the game headed into Extra Time. Northampton drew first blood with a penalty. Saracens then responded with Hodgson converting two. 20-17 to Saracens and the clock running down.

With three points in it, all Northampton needed was a penalty or a drop goal. If the game finished a tie after Extra Time, the title would still go to Northampton, having scored more tries.

The Saints pack were camped right in front of the posts, making up inch after inch. Extra Time was up, so surely all we were waiting for was something akin to Jonny Wilkinson’s World Cup Winning drop goal (sorry… I had to mention that at least once!) to clasp victory from the jaws of defeat.

But Northampton wanted undeniable glory, and whilst everyone was preparing themselves for the kick at the posts, the man of the moment Alex Waller saw a tiny gap from within the mass of bodies and dived at the line for a try.

The Saints players all reacted in ecstasy, but with about sixteen 20 stone men all on top of each other, how could the referee possibly see if that was a try or not??

Enter [stage left] TMO to save the day and deliver a heavenly blessing for The Saints.

After countless different views and angles accompanied by gasps of delight and groans of despair from the watching 80,000 fans, TMO correctly informed the referee he “may award the try” and the whistle blew giving Northampton Saints the Championship!

So why take such a risk to go for the try when the clock has run out, when a drop goal right in front of the posts would have done it and arguable been an easier achievement? I’m not taking anything away from a fantastic win for The Saints, but would a team in that situation have gone for the try 10 years ago?

Without the technology, a referee would have had to have made a HUGE call faced with a mass of bodies in which he would no doubt not even be able to see the ball.

Historically, in these situations, the referee stopped the game and, akin to a human version of Pick Up Sticks, would peel off the players in front of him one by one until he reached the ball carrier at the bottom. By this point a defending player could very easily have slipped his hand under the ball to “hold up the try”.

But armed with a combination of a total disregard for what could go wrong; the desire to give your fans the unquestionable glory of winning by a bona fide try and umpteen TV Camera Angles to hopefully back up that you carried the line; the marauding East Midlanders went for that champion defining gap.

Most, at first glance, dismissed the attempt as desperate – ready to cast Saracens as the victors. But all it takes is for one of the many angles to show that the ball touched the line, and that’s enough to annul any doubt and award the points.

The gamble paid off, with technology proving the driver for the big pay out.

Not a bad end to the season I’m sure you’ll agree. Winners of the 2013-2014 Amlin European Challenge Cup, and then a week later being hailed 2013-2014 Aviva Premiership Champions! A massive congratulations from TSG!

We can lay claim to providing Northampton Saints with ‘Title Winning Technology and Support’, but not affecting the technology in the final….honest!

Technology certainly created the talking points for this crucial encounter, with everything going right. How often can we say that?

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup fast approaching, Goal Line Technology will be on everyone’s lips for sure, especially after our last foray at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and “that” Lampard goal.