Shoot-outs have no place in rugby

After Sunday's Heineken Cup semi-final, Chris Hewett argues why draws should not be settled this way again
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The Independent Online

American Football has its sudden-death overtime, baseball swears by its extra-innings system, cricket is experimenting with a "super over" arrangement, rugby league is going down the "golden point" route.

In Australian rules football, they occasionally resurrect the replay. And how does rugby union separate teams who cannot separate themselves? By the Williams-Crane method, under which players who do not normally put boot to ball are suddenly asked to kick for a crock of gold. Short of asking a cat to bark, it is hard to imagine anything more preposterous.

Ever since the sport went open in 1995, administrators have talked of the inappropriateness of the football model. Where the people's game went, they insisted, the union code would not follow. And what do we find, almost a decade and a half into the professional era? A growing obsession with football's fripperies and excesses. Already, a career as a head coach in rugby is less secure than one in football: as detailed in these pages recently, the average tenure over the last five seasons has been a mere 20 months. Now, rugby has sold a little more of its soul for the price of a penalty shoot-out.

The Heineken Cup semi-final between Cardiff Blues and Leicester at the Millennium Stadium on Sunday was blessed with everything required of the classic and, sadly, the one thing required of the farce. At 26-26 after 20 exhausting minutes of extra time, it was left to the kickers, trained and untrained, to decide the matter from a central position on the 22-metre line.

For the likes of Ben Blair and Julien Dupuy, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Vesty, the shots were no more demanding than the golfer's gimme. For non-kickers like Martyn Williams (right) and Jordan Crane, they were something entirely different. Williams missed, Crane scored.

Williams is among the most popular figures in the sport, and among its finest practitioners. Many of his fellow professionals are aghast that one of the outstanding back-row forwards in world rugby should have been so demeaned. Had Williams lost the game for his side by missing a tackle or spilling a pass, none of his peers would have considered it an injustice. But he lost the game by failing to perform a task outside the skill-set of the majority of players. The organisers might as well have thrown the two back divisions into a scrum and awarded the game to the first side to steal a ball against the head.

Players and supporters alike would rather have seen the extra-time period extended for another 10 minutes, or until a score was registered. But broadcasters reject the idea because it would interfere with their scheduling, while administrators argue that too much influence would be wielded by referees awarding penalties within kicking range of the posts. Replays, meanwhile, are non-starters – the northern hemisphere season, in particular, is already too congested.

It may be that tournament rules will be changed to take penalty offences into account: in the event of a draw, with the sides level on tries, the more disciplined team would win. More likely is a revamp of the shoot-out, in which the principal goal-kickers take shots from distances and angles of increasing difficulty. It wouldn't be rugby, but it would at least be fair.

Cited Quinlan faces Lions tour misery

*Alan Quinlan, the Munster flanker, has been cited for alleged gouging during his side's Heineken Cup semi-final defeat by Leinster on Saturday and will face a disciplinary tribunal in the next few days. If found guilty, he is likely to miss the whole of the forthcoming Lions tour of South Africa.

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