Ties perplex players, fans in Super Rugby
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The 12th round of matches in Super Rugby produced a modern statistical oddity: two matches which ended in ties.
The championship-leading, defending champion Crusaders scored and converted a try after the fulltime siren to draw 21-21 with South Africa’s Sharks in Christchurch and the Hamilton-based Chiefs rallied from 28-12 down after 53 minutes to draw 31-31 with the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
The Crusaders had to score three converted tries to cancel out seven penalties kicked by Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch on Friday. The Chiefs, depleted by injuries but still indomitable, scored three late tries to catch a Highlanders lineup that seemed to be coasting to an easy win.
Weekend results highlight the fact that ties have become a rarity in modern rugby. Matches are typically higher-scoring and five- or seven-point tries tend to produce more disparity on the scoreboard than when three- or four-point tries fostered closer games.
For instance, the great Ireland lock Willie John McBride played in 80 test matches between 1962 and 1975, of which 13 ended drawn. The Ireland and Lions center Mike Gibson, whose career ended in 1979, played 81 tests, 11 of which were ties. Nine of the 69 tests played by the French flanker Michel Crauste ended in deadlock.
The former England scrumhalf Dickie Jeeps played in 37 tests, almost one in five of which were tied.
Though modern players are playing more tests than ever before, no player since Ireland’s Fergus Slattery, who retired in 1984, has played in more than six tests that ended in a tie.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who has played 118 tests for New Zealand and who had to settle for a tie in his 150th match for the Crusaders on Friday, has only twice played in a test match that was drawn.
Richie McCaw played in a world record 148 tests and only two ended without a decision.
Further, there had been only one other tie in Super Rugby this season before last weekend. There were none in 2018, only two in 2017 and three in 2016.
Inexperience with tied games might explain the obvious bewilderment of players on both sides when weekend matches ended without a winner or loser.
It was evident when the final whistle blew in both games that no-one knew what to think. Players milled around in the middle of the field looking more shocked than satisfied. There were no exuberant celebrations, nor any displays of abject disappointment.
The Sharks might have been more inclined to celebrate. Though they led for almost all of the match and saw that lead slip away in the last seconds, they at least had cause to cheer a draw with the defending champions on their home ground.
The Highlanders had more to bemoan; they threw away a much-needed win against a depleted Chiefs and the tie left both teams just hanging on in the playoffs race.
The pair of ties has given new life to the debate about whether rugby should allow draws at all or whether the concept is archaic.
Rugby has mechanisms to deal with ties in the knockout stages of major tournaments. Extra time has been needed twice in eight editions to decide the outcome of a World Cup final; in 1995 when New Zealand and South Africa were level at 9-9 at fulltime before South Africa won 15-12, and in 2003 when Australia and England were locked at 17-17. England flyhalf Jonny Wilkinson decided that match with an extra-time dropped goal.
In the case of Super Rugby playoffs matches, if teams can’t be separated after extra time a goalkicking shootout is used to determine a winner.
Some fans, left feeling deflated when a tie occurs, would like to see a winner in all matches. But ties may also be part of the essential beauty of rugby, a sport that produces such extraordinary physical endeavor but accepts that sometimes the best decision is no decision.