RFU to investigate after Saracens vs Harlequins TMO controversy

Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies clashed with Saracens counterpart Owen Farrell  (Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire)
Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies clashed with Saracens counterpart Owen Farrell (Kieran Cleeves/PA Wire)

Officials accused of ignoring foul play to protect their ego will be subject to an RFU investigation, following an exchange sparked by a clash between Harlequins captain Stephan Lewies and Saracens counterpart Owen Farrell.

Saracens thrashed Quins 52-7 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday, during which lock Lewies collided knees-first into Farrell, who took exception to the challenge.

Television Match Official (TMO) Stuart Terheege could be heard asking for a replay, just as summariser Austin Healey said on commentary that where Lewies collided with Farrell “could be really interesting”.

Terheege was then heard on television footage appearing to tell referee Christophe Ridley: “The problem I have got now of course is it looks like Healey has instigated it, yeah?”

After a pause and reiterating his initial comment, Terhegee added: “I don’t want to talk about it, okay?”

As TNT Sports screened a replay of the incident, Terheege could be heard saying: “Oh, come on, don’t show it.”

The RFU have confirmed the incident will be investigated in their standard match weekend reviews.

Television officials take seats in the programme director’s truck. The RFU say the TMOs do not have a direct feed of match commentary but can often hear, because they are sat close to the TNT Sports match director.

After the game, former England star Healey posted on X: “Think the TMO has had better days, looks like ego got in the way of ruling on foul play.”

Lewies had earlier received a yellow card, so another sin-bin would have resulted in a red card. The incident would appear to undermine rugby’s zero-tolerance attitude towards foul play and incidents that jeopardise widespread progress on player safety.

Healey’s assertion that egos have clouded judgement on foul play will sting the RFU and Premiership Rugby, with great strides taken in recent years to boost general safety in the sport.

Player welfare pressure group Progressive Rugby voiced concerns on the incident.

“It is clear a decision has been taken to ignore foul, reckless or dangerous play because of concern it had been highlighted by a pundit,” said Professor John Fairclough. “An explanation should be sought as a matter of urgency.”