There is nothing wrong with using technology to help officials to make decisions — it is the human at the controls who is the problem.
Maybe it was a case of mistaken identity. Maybe the French referee mistook Bismarck du Plessis for the Venus de Milo. How else could he have assumed that there were no arms used in the tackle that ended the Rugby Championship for Dan Carter?
If Romain Poite had had the slightest inkling of the can of worms his decision might open up, he would surely have kept his hand in his pocket. And yet it is assuredly not the Frenchman's fault. He has been hung out to dry by a system that has vested way too much power in the concept that the camera never lies.
When Sanzar chose to expand the role of the television match official (TMO), it thought it was doing us all a favour. Players who indulged in foul play off the ball would now be brought to justice. Tries that had been initiated by a forward pass or from offside positions would be overruled. It was the logical next step after the demonstrable success of the TMO concept in determining the fairness, or otherwise, of tries.
Except that one man's demonstrable success is another man's farrago of misinterpretation. Hardly a week goes by now without a TMO making some form of howler after the benefit of reviewing video footage half a dozen times. Why is this? Well, for one thing, the laws of the game are embarrassingly open to interpretation. For another, there is the unspoken chain of command in officialdom.
To elaborate: it is not unusual, especially in the levels below Test matches, for the referee to be junior to his assistants on the touchlines. Experienced referees are sometimes given subservient roles if they have had a particularly busy recent schedule, perhaps with a lot of air travel involved. There is also the theory, prevalent in the corridors of power at certain unions, that it helps to keep their feet on the ground.
One of the unexpected consequences of this is that "advice" from the touchlines has become far more prevalent. Touch judges, or "assistant referees" as they were renamed a few years ago, are in the habit of talking into the microphone located in the handle of the flag they carry. What they say may be as innocuous as "forward pass", in which case, if the referee has missed it, the game comes to a somewhat belated stop as he attempts to convince the players that he had been playing advantage all along.
At other times, however, the advice is far more serious and it inevitably involves the game stopping while the two officials confer. Increasingly now, the conference is joined by the TMO sitting in his box several storeys up on the halfway line. It is his job to determine what sanction, if any, needs to be taken. But, and here's the rub, the TMO is frequently "junior" to the men in the middle, which leads to unseemly power plays if the referee or either of his assistants happens to disagree with his interpretation.
There are even those who will tell you that TMOs are drawn from the ranks of referees who weren't good enough to handle the pressure of a big match. So what do you suppose happens when they have to make a decision based on nothing more tangible than video evidence, when the players, officials and crowd are all staring at the big screen and waiting?
The game's governing bodies are aware of this and it was one of the issues that Sanzar apparently addressed two weeks ago, when it sent out a press release stating that from now on in the Rugby Championship referees were empowered to make decisions based on what they could see on the big screen.
The subtext of this was, if you don't trust the TMO or your assistants, ignore them.
The dynamic of last Saturday in Auckland was informed by the power play alluded to above. The TMO was a particularly ineffectual former referee from Australia by the name of George Ayoub. When asked to rule on the severity of Du Plessis's tackle on Carter, he looked at it from every angle available, but could find no evidence to counter Poite’s suggestion that it was dangerous.
The problem was now exacerbated because Poite could see the big screen as clearly as Ayoub could see his monitor, but the decision was no longer with the Frenchman from the moment he involved the TMO.
And so it is quite possible that, by the time he produced his yellow card, Poite already knew he had made a mistake and, furthermore, that he was stuck with a TMO he couldn't trust.
It informed the way he controlled the rest of the game and particularly the moment in the 42nd minute, when a genuinely dangerous tackle by Du Plessis turned the match on its head.
The problem for Sanzar and the International Rugby Board now is that they can't get the champagne cork back in the bottle. Having taken ever more power from the referee, few will now accept that the game was better when the man with the whistle ran the game, warts and all.