It’s been three long months but Super Rugby finally returns to TV screens this weekend and it sounds like fans will also be rushing along to stadiums to witness the first sports played in front of a live audience since the world was put into lockdown due to coronavirus.
The Super Rugby Aotearoa competition will see New Zealand’s five franchises butt heads over 10 weeks in what’s effectively a supersized finals series.
Since three rounds of knockout matches were introduced to Super Rugby in 2016, New Zealand have contributed four of the eight finalists every year. This season’s NZ-only competition, brought on due to the global pandemic, trims away the fat and allows fans to really get their money’s worth – there are no dud games, no dead rubbers, no matches that a rugby loving audience won’t be licking their teeth at.
There are also precautions in place so that there are fewer draws – but who knows whether the new golden point changes will even be required.
The new law means that an extra 10 minutes will be played at the end of the regular 80 if two sides are square on points. However, in the 24-and-a-half-years of Super Rugby’s history, we’ve witnessed just seven draws between the New Zealand sides – fewer than one in every three seasons.
On the rare chance that we do see two teams come out level after 80 minutes of action in Super Rugby Aotearoa, is the new golden point method actually the fairest way to determine a winner?
In the NRL, an extra 10 minutes is played at the end of any drawn match to try and separate the competing teams, which is effectively the same rule that the Aotearoa competition will adopt – but there are a few key differences between league and union that arguably make the golden point rule ill-suited for the fifteen man code.
In league, the team that receives the kick-off is normally able to gobble up some easy metres from the first five phases before punting the ball down the field. In contrast, the team that receives the first kick-off in union has no such luxury.
If we do see the golden point rule in action during Super Rugby, the first kick-off receiver is going to have a torrid time making sure they’re able to send the ball back without putting themselves under too much immediate pressure.
The other major difference between the two codes which compounds the kick-off problem is that penalties are considerably more plentiful in union. In 2020, NRL teams are conceding between 3.3 and 7.8 penalties a game. In the seven rounds of Super Rugby that were played prior to the shutdown, however, teams were conceding between 7.3 and 11.3 penalties per match.
While most league matches decided during golden point time come down to an exciting drop goal attempt that lands on target, you can bet your bottom dollar that Super Rugby sides will try and earn penalties to give themselves a considerably easier means to muster up some points.
In league, it’s far more difficult to force penalties – you only have the ball for six phases and it’s fairly straightforward for a defending team to not step out of line during those six plays of the ball. It’s a completely different story in union and the first kick-off receiver during that 10-minute period of golden time is going to find themselves under the pump.
RugbyX drew criticism during its inaugural tournament for the unfair tie-breaker rule that saw the team that started with possession for the sudden-death portion of the match-winning every single contest. Let’s hope Super Rugby Aotearoa doesn’t head down the same path.
There’s nothing more exciting than watching a period of sudden death where both sides have a fair shot of stealing victory but there’s nothing worse than tuning in to the dying stages of a contest, knowing who’s likely to take out victory simply due to the unfair initial set-up.
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