While a winner must usually be found in sport, for the first time in the New Zealand national provincial championship, the Golden Point rule was used in ‘top of the table’ Mitre 10 Cup match.
Wellington had traveled down to challenge Canterbury. In a spirited attempt, the match ended after 80 minutes at 26-all. A draw yet, for the first time in its 44 year history, the team’s now had to play for Golden Point – to continue the match, until the first team to score would be determined the winner.
While New Zealand (NZ) rugby now has the golden point rule in Super Rugby, it is being used for the Mitre 10 Cup for the first time ever. For the traditionalists, the result flies in the face of fairness. A harsh result for the Wellington Lions players (see main photo), who had rightly been an even match against Canterbury.
So, where is their reward for their efforts? After 80 minutes of the brutal contest, in 2020 the new rules mean you ‘take a few minutes, and then prepare to play for a result’.
Whether it is fair or right, the players all returned to action, with a final act of an intercept try only making for a dramatic outcome to the Premiership race.
What a finish!! 🙌
— Mitre 10 Cup (@Mitre10Cup) October 3, 2020
Golden point used in ‘top of the table’ Mitre 10 Cup match
Consternation aside, both sides are challenging for the Premiership title. And in a similar match to the Hurricanes v Crusaders game back in July, when the ‘Canes stole a win off the undefeated ‘Saders. In that match, a 32-34 outcome was more in the favour of the visitors. On Saturday, the Lions had roared to a 21-26 lead and looked to be repeating the away win.
Yet like any good ‘red and black’ side, they are never dominated until the whistle is sounded. A 75th minute try to Tom Christie. With a tough conversion to make for the outright lead, young first-five Fergus Burke missed the important kick. That then saw both captains brought together, as referee Paul Williams was the first NPC official to direct them that the golden point rule must be enforced.
Now a full component of rugby league and integrated into Super Rugby Aotearoa for a trial season, it actually surprised many. ‘Oh yes, that rule’ was the reaction by fans of both teams. Maybe it was a dramatic twist yet for the thousands who would have already turned to their opposing fans, shook hands, and said “good game”, this call would have been odd (to say the least).
Having to scull some water, stretch the hamstrings, and be prepared for ten further minutes play is not a regular feature in New Zealand sport. The Warriors league team is probably the only professional side who have experienced the ruling. Not even the All Blacks have had to endure the golden point sensation. So for the 30 Mitre 10 Cup players on the field, it was a new experience.
The virgin ground saw both sides play to their strengths. And with possession and territory on their side, the Wellington side was hard on the attack when suddenly, Isaiah Punivai plucked the ball from the air and wrote his name in the annals of NZ rugby history. The first golden point victory in any national provincial match.
Fair, or unfair, the result stands in Premiership race
Okay, one could argue about the rights or wrongs of the guidelines. Should it have a place in a semi-professional competition? Might it have been integrated only to ‘trial’ the practice, rather for the advantage of results on the field?
Still, the outcome is now in favour of the host. And, to the disadvantage of their opposition, Canterbury collected a bonus point for the try; their fourth of the match. That could prove critical, as the standings at the beginning of the week saw Canterbury in a lowly position. Now with two wins, in boosts their standing, however, with full results yet to be seen, not high enough at this stage, to threaten the likes of Tasman for a home playoff match.
Lions players will wake this morning suddenly remembering that brief mention of #GoldenPoint in the preseason comp breakdown.
Incidental then, yet it's cost Wellington heaps.
— scott hornell (@scotthornell73) October 3, 2020
So what was learned from the result of the first golden point match? Is it that ‘don’t allow your opponent within a score in the 75th minute?’ Well, that is self-evident. And in any sport, the result is in the balance right up till the final minute. The All Blacks have been on both sides of that outcome, as have both Canterbury and Wellington before.
So, might it be that for any modern rugby side [where the GP rule applies] that players need to be prepared for the extra time. But not only for extra time, but to ‘score first’.
Wellington might be ruing their missed attempt at a dropkick. Jackson Garden-Bachop, a Hurricanes player, missed the opportunity (like Burke missing the conversion). Those moments must be taken, as when Wellington then attempted to pass the ball wide, the intercept occurred. Match lost, and their title hopes on thin ground.
How to take advantage of Golden Point rule
Some examples can be taken from rugby league, however, with the play-of-the-ball in league allowing for a pivot to be more easily in position, in union, the ruck needs to be perfectly aligned for a successful attempt.
Successful rucks directly in the middle of the field would be the perfect preparation. Get all the forwards involved, and have two options to take the dropkick – that is the perfect scenario.
In fact, a number of rucks could create a penalty situation if the opposition impedes play-of-the-ball. This year, more players have been penalized for lying on the ball, so going for a shot at goal outcome might be presented. Even a fee kick could present an opportunity.
Why don’t people drop goal straight from a scrum these days? #CANvWEL
— Scotty Donaldson (@scottd_sports) October 3, 2020
You see it with on-field free-kick options. Within striking range, the scrum is deferred for a lineout. Yet with golden point rules, you would play for the scrum.
While a penalty is now a less popular a scoring movement during the match, the value of a dropkick has to always be at the ready. It is a focused choice; some competitions seem more prepared to arm their players with the dropkick as weaponry, than some others. In French Top14 rugby, it is a bigger part of the on-field options, with less focus made for Southern hemisphere teams.
To their credit, the Barrett brothers seem prepared to take that option more, and at the International/Super Rugby levels, a Damian McKenzie or even a Mitchell Hunt.
So the lessons must be taken from this match. Be it for Jackson Garden-Bachop or any leading Mitre 10 Cup first-five, inside center or fullback. The option to ‘drop into the pocket’ and slip the ball between the posts has to be an option. If not due to this first-time outcome, but to maximize any advantage a team can take away, at any time.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images