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Everyone knows rugby can be a cruel game. Hearts are routinely broken, dreams are systematically crushed, and spiffing young lads are magically turned into mouldy, old walking cauliflowers.
But this, THIS is cruelty on a whole other Cruella de Vil-ian level.
No man, woman or child should ever be subjected to the depravity of a penalty shootout.
You may remember the infamous Cardiff versus Leicester shootout in the semi-final of the 2008-09 Heineken Cup. It was both exhilarating and excruciating to watch. Players with a natural kicking inability were forced to step up to the tee and show the world just how inept they were with the boot.
It was a lottery that left Cardiff humiliated and Leicester with a bittersweet taste in their mouths.
We all hoped that was it. The penalty shootout was done. Gone the way of Elvis and the dog from the Beethoven movies.
But here we are in 2018 and the penalty shootout is still alive and kicking.
So what is it exactly and why does it exist?
Well in every rugby competition, there are tie-breaking procedures for playoff matches.
Most will begin with a period of extra-time, then move on to sudden-death if necessary. Usually, this is enough to determine a winner. But once in a purple polka dotted moon, not even 110 minutes of rugby can break the deadlock.
So what do you do? You take random potshots at the uprights, of course!
Now, the rules on the penalty shootout (or place-kick competition as some call it) vary depending on the competition.
In the case of the Under 19s semi final between Miami Rugby and Deltona, both teams had to select one kicker each to take part in the shootout.
To be nominated, they had to have “participated in all, or some of the tied match” and could still be selected even if they were substituted by the end of play.
A competition like Super Rugby, on the other hand, instructs that:
Law 3.6.2 c ii
“each team must nominate five players to take part in the competition. Only players on the playing area at the final whistle of extra time may be nominated.”
Is it better to have one specialist kicker carrying the burden, or have it shared across the shoulders of a few subpar toe-pokers?
One removes the team aspect from a team sport. The other is, as sports journalist Chris Hewett put it, “short of asking a cat to bark.” There’s no real winner.
Once the kickers have been elected, the first round of shots is taken from three points along the 22-metre line: the middle, the left 15-metre hash, and the right 15-metre hash.
This same process is followed by Super Rugby, albeit with ten kickers instead of two. If after the first round, both teams are still tied up then:
Law 3.6.2 c vii
“the competition continues on a ‘sudden death’ basis, following the same order of kickers used in the first five kicks.”
This is where our friends from Florida differ once again (not including the lack of kicking tees).
According to Florida Youth Rugby rules, if the teams are all locked up after the first round, the kicks must be “moved to a line 27 metres out from goal”, then if they are still tied after the second round, the kickers are pushed to 32 metres and so on until a winner can be determined.
Luckily for Miami Rugby, their scrum half was up to the task and eventually slotted home the winner, breaking the heart of Deltona’s valiant fullback.
But it’s a victory that feels more like relief than euphoria. It’s a victory that tastes more like earwax than honey.
It’s hardly a rewarding victory, is it?
What do you think Roarers? Should rugby abolish the controversial penalty shootout?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.