Super Over the Black Dot: The rare shoot-out that could decide a Rugby World Cup final

Rugby World Cup
by Iain Payten

You thought a tied Cricket World Cup final decided by a boundary recount – after a tied Super Over couldn’t find a winner – has generated some debate.

But it could be a case of "hold my beer" if something similar happens at the Rugby World Cup in a few months

The prize tournament of World Rugby will be run and won in Japan and if a winner can’t be determined in the knockout stages after 80 minutes, and in another two periods of extra time, the fourth and final step is a goal-kicking shoot-out.

That’s right, the World Cup could be decided by a place-kick competition – and if that shocks you, it used to be a drop-kick shoot out.

The goal-kicking shoot-out  is a highly unlikely scenario, for sure, but the events at Lords at the weekend have shown that even massive events such as World Cups aren’t immune to a rarely seen finish, and a desperate reach further into the rule book to decide a winner.

In cricket’s case, the tied score at the end of 50 overs required a Super Over to be played. When that was tied, too, the first tie-breaker in the ICC rules was most boundaries hit in the match. England win.

So what happens in the event of a drawn game in the knock-out playoffs stage of the Rugby World Cup?

From the quarter-finals on, if the teams’ scores are level at 80 minutes there are three steps to find a winner, as laid out by World Rugby rules.

The first is extra time – two periods of ten minutes each way - and if scores are still tied, the game then has a third ‘sudden death’ period of ten minutes.

Any score in that period, obviously, wins the game.

But if teams still can’t be separated, then the mythical goal-kicking shoot-out occurs.

Teams nominate five kickers, picked from the players who are still on the field at the end of the 110 minutes.

Those five then attempt to kick goals from three spots on the 22 metre line – directly in front, 15 metres to the left and 15 metres to the right.

Like soccer, the winner emerges when one team can’t equal the score of the other team with the remaining kicks.

If all ten kicks are made, then it’s sudden death kicks between pairs, from those same three 22m spots, on rotation.

Football may be used to deciding huge games and tournaments via the penalty shootout but a Rugby World Cup final won in a place-kicking shootout would be a sizeable shock to the system.

It would take a very tight-fought game to get through half-an-hour extra time without a winner, but Rugby World Cup finals are no stranger to tight-run things.

Two finals, in 1995 and 2003, both went into extra-time.

In 1995, Joel Stransky’s drop goal seven minutes from the end of extra time stopped the World Cup being decided by a tiebreaker option.

Back then there was no sudden death or goalkicking competition, and if scores had have stayed level, New Zealand would have won the World Cup due to the fact South Africa had a player sent off earlier in the tournament.

That was the tie-breaker in place in 1999 as well, and the Wallabies would have progressed past the Boks on the same criteria in the semi-final if Stephen Larkham had not have kicked his extra-time field goal.

In 2003, World Rugby and the competing nations agreed to change the tiebreaker criteria to what exists now; albeit in 2003 the shoot-out was initially a drop-goal competition. (It was changed at the next World Cup).

So even if Jonny Wilkinson had missed his famous extra-time drop-goal, there would have been ten minutes of golden point to follow.

Could it happen?

Well, there has only ever been one tournament knock-out game settled by a goal-kicking shoot-out and that was in 2009, when Leicester and Cardiff went to kicks in the Heineken Cup semi-final.

The European Rugby tournament rules are slightly different, and while extra-time is played, there is no sudden death after that. The tie-breaker in that competition the most tries scored in the game but in 2009, Cardiff and Leicester had scored the same amount of meat pies and so found themselves in a goal-kicking shootout.

All the kicks were in front, and Leicester won through to the final after Cardiff flanker Martyn Williams missed his kick.

The kicking shoot-out was panned in the media and by the two teams, and the ERC pledged to review the practice, but it remains in their tournament guidelines to this day.

Super Rugby use the same criteria as World Rugby, as laid out below.

Knock-out Matches

For quarter-finals, semi-finals, the Bronze Final and the Final, if Teams are tied at full-time, then the winner shall be determined through the following sequential criteria;

1. Extra time

Following an interval of 5 minutes, extra time of 10 minutes each way shall be played in full. Teams must remain on the Field of Play. The referee will conduct a coin toss and Team B will call the toss: winner to nominate to kick-off or which direction to play.

2. Sudden death

If the scores are tied at the conclusion of Extra Time, then following an interval of 5 minutes a further extra time of 10 minutes maximum shall be played. Teams swap ends and whichever Team kicked Extra Time also kicks off Sudden Death. During this period the first Team to score any points shall be declared the winner.

3. Kicking competition

If after Sudden Death no winner can be declared, a kicking competition will be organised between the two Teams. The winner of that competition shall be declared the winner of the Match.

According to the following procedures:

* All players and match officials will remain on the playing area. The referee will call the captains of the two teams together and will conduct a coin toss. The winner of the coin toss then may either choose which team kicks first (in which case the loser chooses the end at which all place kicks will be taken) or choose the end at which all place kicks will be taken (in which case the loser chooses which team kicks first).

* 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. No substituted players, injury-replaced players or players who have been shown a red card may take part at any time. For clarification purposes, any player who has received a yellow card and who remains in the sin bin at the time of the final whistle of extra time may not take part in the place kick competition (including during 'sudden death'). The order in which the nominated players will kick does not have to be pre-determined.

* The match officials and the 10 nominated players (five from each team) will assemble on the half-way line. Team management and players not nominated must remain behind the half-way line in the side of the playing area not used. No one other than the match officials, the match manager, two ball persons and the participating players are allowed in the part of the playing area being used for the competition (including around the playing area, behind the posts, etc).

* The five players from each team will place kick from three different points, all on the 22 metre line, as follows:

- First point: directly in front of the posts

- Second point: on the 15 metre line on the left hand side facing the posts

- Third point: on the 15 metre line on the right hand side facing the posts

* The referee will start the competition by calling the first player selected from the team kicking first to the first kicking point. Once the player has taken the place kick, the referee calls a player from the opposing team to take his place kick from the same point.

* The next two players (one from each team) will place kick from the second point in turn. This will continue until all five players from each team have place kicked (the next players place kicking respectively from the third point, the first point and finally the second point), or until one team is unable to equal the score of the other team within the remaining number of kicks (at which time the referee will declare the winner).

* If there are an equal number of successful kicks once each team has completed its five place kicks, the competition continues on a 'sudden death' basis, following the same order of kickers used in the first five kicks.

* The competition will continue two kickers at a time (one from each team), going progressively through the three kicking points as stated above (and repeating the process if necessary) until one player succeeds with a place kick and the player from the other team taking the same place kick misses it. Once this occurs, the team of the player who succeeded with the place kick will be declared the winner. Each of these additional kicks shall be taken by the same five players in rotation.

Throughout the place kicking competition:

* Once a player has positioned the ball on the kicking tee, he must take the kick within one minute. Should he take longer, the referee shall declare the kick unsuccessful. 

* After each kick, the referee records the number of the player and whether or not the attempt was successful. The sideline manager/substitution recorder will record the same details on the official match report.

* Whether or not the kick is successful in each case is the sole decision of the referee, who may at his sole discretion rely on the assistance of his assistant referees. The referee's decision shall be final and binding.

* Once a player has completed their place kick, they shall return to stand with their team behind the half-way line in the side of the playing area not used.