How the new golden-point law ruined what could have been a thrilling final round of Super Rugby Aotearoa
Super Rugby Aotearoa’s new golden point rule introduced at the start of the 2020 competition was supposed to generate more excitement but the opposite has arguably been the case this season.
Two matches in this year’s tournament – both on the same weekend – finished up even-stevens after 80 minutes. The first game saw Chiefs No 15 Damian McKenzie kick a penalty after five minutes of extra play to hand a loss to the Highlanders while David Havili slotted a drop goal for the Crusaders to sink the Hurricanes barely sixty seconds into golden-point time.
While those six minutes of extra-time were intense, they resulted in the competition’s two top sides pulling away at the top of the table.
Heading into the final round of action, the Crusaders have the bye but already locked in a home final after their victory over the Blues last weekend, while the Chiefs are unassailable in second position, courtesy of their five-point buffer over the Blues.
The Highlanders could take third spot if they can score a win over the Hurricanes and the Blues can’t get up over an inexperienced Chiefs team but other than that minor accomplishment, there’s nothing to play for in the final round.
#SuperRugbyAotearoa table if the golden point games had just been draws:
Would have made for an interesting final round…
— James (@jrodbourn) April 29, 2021
As highlighted by James Rodbourn on Twitter, there would be a lot more at stake this weekend were it not for those extra-time victories.
If the Crusaders and Chiefs had to settle for draws in those Round 7 matches, there would be just two competition points separating the second-placed Chiefs and the fourth-placed Highlanders.
As such, the Chiefs would need to secure a win on Saturday night to guarantee their place in the grand final – and would have been forced to again field their first-choice team.
If the Blues instead prevailed and the Highlanders overcame the Hurricanes, the spot in the final would come to down who had the better points differential between the two victorious sides – and there would be just three points in it going into the start of the round.
It’s an ironic twist, given that golden point was conceived as a way of making the competition more exciting – which it inevitably did for all of six minutes, while the next 160 minutes of Super Rugby Aotearoa action is now all but redudant.
“Draws can often leave everyone feeling a little empty and after feedback from our coaches and players we have added the golden point rule,” said New Zealand Rugby Head of Professional Rugby Chris Lendrum ahead of last year’s competition. “We’ve seen the excitement it can generate in other codes and we think adds a real edge.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 29, 2021
While the golden point rule hasn’t exactly improved this year’s competition, that’s not an inditement on the rule as a whole – it just so happens that the winning sides in the only extra time matches have also ended up as the first and second seeds for the grand final.
Had the Crusaders lost their match against the Hurricanes, a bonus point victory for the Chiefs on Saturday would hand them home-ground advantage for the competition final – although that’s not something they’ve managed for some time.
A win for the Highlanders against the Chiefs, on the other hand, would have put them in pole position this weekend to nab second place – but only if they’re able to get up against the Hurricanes.
Instead, the worst possible results have transpired – unless you’re a Crusaders or Chiefs fan.
It’s an unfortunate consequence of the golden point law but likely not one that will see the rule scrapped for next year, whatever form Super Rugby takes, given that the Australian competition has also incorporated golden point for the past two seasons.
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