Epic contest reduced to farce
May 6, 2009
Leicester boss Richard Cockerill consoles Cardiff Blues' Martyn Williams after Sunday's dramatic penalty shoot-out © Getty Images
It had to happen eventually but, hopefully, it will never happen again. The penalty shoot-out may have become an accepted part of the soccer scene but it has no place in rugby.
Footballers practise kicking every day - that is what the game is all about - and when they are preparing for a cup tie they do actually practise taking penalties. Unlike poor old Martyn Williams who admitted afterwards he had not practised taking place kicks since his school days.
ERC, Chief Executive, Derek McGrath, reckons anything is better than matches being decided by the toss of a coin but to ask non-specialists to take pot shots at goal to decide a match is almost as much of a lottery.
McGrath says they are constantly reviewing the rules governing this sort of situation. I am sure they do but it has never been properly addressed and finally they were caught out.
We almost had a farcical situation in the 1995 World Cup when it looked as if the semi-final between South Africa and France in Durban might have to be cancelled because of a sudden and totally unexpected monsoon that turned Kings Park into a lake.
With no chance of a postponement everybody was suddenly consulting the rule book only to discover to their horror that in the event of no play at all under paragraph Z sub-section 32 - or some such - the host nation would go out because they had a poorer disciplinary record - they had had a player sent-off in an ill-tempered match against Canada in the pool stage.
Fortunately, because there would have been riots, the storm abated and after some fine work by a group of women with mops the game went ahead.
We almost had deadlock, of course in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final but Jonny Wilkinson's golden right boot saved the day. Imagine the outcry if they had had to resort to disciplinary records to decide a final!
This time there was no eleventh hour reprieve - an epic contest that had had everything was reduced to farce. The Leicester team were obviously relieved but also embarrassed and appeared more intent on showing sympathy for Williams than celebrating.
So what is the fairest way to come up with a result when a contest has to be decided and a replay is out of the question?
If you still want to go down the goal kicking route it has to be more logical to have a contest between your specialist kickers. You could, for example, start with five kicks along the 22 - one in front, one from the 15 metre lines left and right and one from each touchline.
If that does not bring a result you would then move back to the 10 metre line and go through the same sequence but this time it would be sudden death.
Teams with specialist long range kickers or left and right footers could use more than one kicker.
But why should a rugby game be decided by kicking when most of the game is about running and passing the ball? I believe most spectators and players would prefer to see a continuation of the game rather than a kicking duel.
Another suggestion that has apparently been considered is to reduce the number of players on the field during extra time. Presumably you would start by getting rid of the flankers and perhaps the fullback, then - if there is no joy after the first period - the second rows would go and finally another three backs if necessary to reduce the game to Sevens.
I have never seen extra time in Sevens last for more than a couple of minutes so, if you were to play five minute periods you would be guaranteed a result in three sessions. It would be better than kicking but still too contrived for my liking.
Talking to the players after Sunday's game I came to the conclusion that they all wanted it to be decided by a 'proper' score and would have happily played until they dropped in order to achieve it.
ERC say they are worried about players getting injured because they are tired and claim there is research that shows this happens. The players seem prepared to take that chance and by allowing substitutions at will during extra time there should be no real problem.
So, having decided that extra time is the only route to go we have to decide whether to go for a 'golden' score right from the outset or whether to play two periods of 10 minutes before going to a sudden death scenario.
An extra 20 minutes is an attractive proposition after the sort of game we saw last Sunday but, on balance, the first score should be the decider. It means that both sides have to commit to attack and it should placate the medics by reducing the risk of injury.
All the various tournament organisers need to put their houses in order on this one. Doing nothing is not an option.
John Taylor is a former Wales and British & Irish Lions international and a regular contributor to Scrum.com