The shoot-out where blazing over the bar is a good thing

May 4, 2009

Major rugby’s first shoot-out was followed, almost inevitably, by a tidal wave of complaints about how unfair it all was.

Leicester secured a slot in the final of the Heineken Cup, Europe’s premier club competition, after beating Cardiff Blues 7-6 “on penalties” on Sunday.

The teams were level at 26-26 after extra time and had each scored two tries, paving the way for a long-anticipated shoot-out.

Each team took five shots from in front on the posts on the 22-metre line.

The front-line kickers had little problem with such a straightforward test but once it moved on to boys who kick a rugby ball about as often as they celebrate a try by kissing a team mate, it got a bit sticky.


The fall guy turned out to be Wales and British and Irish Lions flanker Martyn Williams, who shanked his kick horribly wide, leaving Leicester number eight and former semi-pro footballer Jordan Crane to stroke over the winner.

The players did not really know how to react. There was a minor initial “jump and hug” as seen in soccer shootouts the world over, but that quickly gave way to mass commiserations, as most of the Leicester players took turns to give Williams, a well-respected player, a consoling pat on the back.

Former England hooker Brian Moore echoed the voice of many commentators when he wrote in Monday’s Daily Telegraph that it would have been fairer to toss a coin than test the players on a skill that for many of them, plays no part in their game.

It is true that all footballers should be comfortable taking a penalty, even if they are not very good at it, and that in rugby, goalkicking is something practised by only one or two players in a team.

But, as ever, the question is what is the alternative? The players had run and tackled themselves to a standstill during 100 bruising minutes on Sunday and any further extra-time would have been pointless.

An accurate pass contest, a “who can smash a tackle bag the hardest” competition, how about a test to see who can sneak the furthest offside before the referee turns round?

There are not many rugby skills easily transferable to a shoot-out situation.

Unlike in football, it will always remain an extremely rare occurrence, but, just like the round ball game, nobody will ever forget who missed the vital kick.

If only Chris Waddle had been on Cardiff’s bench.

HAPPIER TIMES: Martyn Williams, who missed the crucial kick on Sunday, scores a try for France against France in Cardiff,  March 15, 2008. REUTERS/ Eddie Keogh

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Reducing both teams by one player at five minute intervals throughout extra time with the winner decided by a golden score would avoid the result coming down to one man’s error.
Try count (not in this case, of course) followed by fewest yellow cards? Not as exciting but might encourage the right approach by the teams during the match.

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