Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Away Goals Rule

Last weekend’s Crusaders-Reds game lived up to the pre-game hype. It had test match intensity from start to finish dominated by ferocious defense, hand-to-hand combat between the forwards, touches of brilliance from Quade Cooper, and hard running from both teams.

Unlike some referees who seem to be under the impression that they are the evening’s main attraction, by underplaying his hand for much of the game Stu Dickinson allowed a free-flowing contest.

But with two minutes to go, as the Reds drove into position in front of the sticks,  the Crusaders’ captain  made a fateful decision to crash through the Reds' ruck. He gambled that Dickinson would interpret the rules in his favour, and lost. It was a throw of the dice that cost his side the game.

The Reds scored two tries to one, so at least by this statistic, they were the deserved winners.

However, your blogger counted nine Reds’ passes (most of them thrown by Genia) that were marginal enough to have been called forward, and three Reds’ offside plays, none of which were called by the referee. The Crusaders’, by comparison, threw only one marginal pass that wasn’t called. In Dickinson’s favor, the discrepancy could be explained in part because the Reds’ played with a very flat offense, such that players constantly received the ball close to the gain line.

The Reds will need to watch this, because when playing away from home, it is unlikely that referees will interpret such flirtation with the rules so favorably. Just like the players, referees are influenced by the crowd, resulting in a tendency to make decisions that favor the home team. In SuperRugby, and even more so in the Tri-Nations, the result of most games goes the way of the home side.

Soccer (dare I call it football), has long recognised this phenomenon, and has attempted to counter it with the “away goals rule”. In the event of scores being equal after a home and away leg, the winner is the team that has scored the most goals away from home.

In other words, away goals count double.

SuperRugby and the Tri-Nations should introduce something similar by awarding more points for an away win than for a win at home. 

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