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Everyone hates penalty kicks to decide games in soccer, and few are fans of the solution in rugby, either. Penalty kicks to decide rugby matches in the USA usually occurs when U19 or High School games reach an impasse. Because U19 players are limited under IRB guidelines to a 70-minute game and 90 minutes in a day, team really cannot play overtime.
Usually at the National Championships, quarterfinals and semifinals are played with 22-minute halves (getting to 88 minutes for the day). That leaves no time for overtime, so tied game are decided by penalty kicks.
This is a most unsatisfactory way to decide who moves on in a national championship.
Even on finals day, when teams play one match, we are limited in our options. The IRB official guidelines say (at least they did the last time I read them) that there should be no U19 overtime, and instead you play the match and then go to penalty kicks.
In 2006 I remember seeing penalty kicks have a deep effect on HS/U19 rugby in the Northeast. The boys Pacific Northwest championship (where I was match commissioner) was decided on penalty kicks, won by the Budd Bay Barbarians. The losers, Chuckanut, were gutted and understandably so. There had to be a better way to decide who was better.
Budd Bay went on to the national championships, where they lost their first two matches on penalty kicks, before winning their final game to finish 7th. Think on that – they didn’t lose a game of actual rugby, and yet finished 7th. (That same year the Dallas Harlequins Colts finished 2nd in Tier B, winning their first two matches on kicks, and Doylestown won their 5th/6th semi on kicks and lost the 5th/6th final to Penn the same way.)
Also that year, the girls national championship game was decided on kicks, a particularly ugly set of proceedings as neither Kent (who kept just missing) and Divine Savior could get even one kick over. Finally DSHA squeaked one over, and their coaches immediately harshly criticized the penalty kick format.
I hate it too. Everyone hates it.
But I have a couple of ideas as to what we could do about it.
First of all, I think the IRB should simplify the rules and simply limit players to 90 minutes of rugby in a day. Forget about the length of a game only being 70 minutes. Currently you can play a 45-minute game, take a five-minute break, and play another 45-minute game and be following the rules, but if you play 70 minutes, take a ten-minute break, and play another 20, that’s a no-no.
The spirit of the rule is not to over-work young bodies. That’s a good thing, but a 90-minute limit is fine.
Second of all, I think overtime in itself isn’t a good idea. For the most part, you need overtime in a rugby game because the defenses are really strong, meaning scoring is at a premium anyway (there have been some exceptions to this, but few). The way rugby works doesn’t lend itself to sudden death.
What I would suggest is take a page from the college football rulebook, and, especially in High School or U19 rugby, us the shootout form of overtime:
If teams are tied after regulation, the teams take turns with a free kick at the opposing team’s 22. The team given the ball has to play until they score or lose the ball. (The free kick is a good way to start because you can’t attempt a drop goal until you’ve gone through a phase.)
Then the other team gets a turn. After the two teams get a turn, whoever is ahead wins. If it’s still tied, then they go again.
I think this form of overtime for rugby is fun, exciting, and provides a quick payoff. I also think that after a tied age-grade game, this is really the only way to provide a result that involves actual rugby. And I think such an overtime plan could produce a result in less than 20 minutes.
If the IRB were to change the U19 guidelines to a simple limit of 90 minutes a day, then playing a 70-minute game with a maximum 20 minutes of the type of overtime I describe could provide satisfactory results. It would be fun, effective, and about rugby.
It’s not the only solution, and, as we’ve seen, other sports can struggle with this problem. But I’d like to see some way to decide a game that doesn’t involved penalty kicks.