The rules of rugby union let the sport down

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It was a result that almost no one wanted or expected. On 8 July, as the final whistle blew in the third and final Test of the British and Irish Lions’ tour of New Zealand, the scores were level at 15-15, meaning the series ended in a 1-1 tie. . In their pre-tournament talks, the organizers from both sides had made no provision for a stoppage after three full 80-minute matches, which left both sets of players and fans broke. -expectation. That regulatory failure was far from the only one to complain. Rugby’s rulebook has also come under heavy scrutiny, as a number of flaws were revealed during the test matches – including a crucial one in the offside laws that effectively decided the series. . The tour should be remembered as proof that the All Blacks are human after all, and that the Lions still make sense as a team. But these lessons could be overshadowed by a more serious one: namely, that there is a clear need to update the laws of the sport.

A draw with the Kiwis is an incredible achievement. New Zealand are the strongest team in rugby union history, and had won their last 38 games at Eden Park in Auckland. The Lions, who were with the best players in Great Britain and Ireland, had only three weeks and six games before the test series to surrender. Their star power is such that they are usually ten points per game better than their strongest member nations. However, the All Blacks were expected to win by that margin in any given game, and they beat the Lions three-quarters of the time. They cruised to a 30-15 victory in the opening test on 24 June. The Lions pulled off a famous 24-21 upset a week later, leaving the third game set for a high.

A stalemate was not much cause for celebration. These are rare even between well-matched teams. RugbyVision, a prediction model run by MIT’s Niven Winchester, estimated that there was a 3% chance of one occurring in each trial. The players looked confused at the final whistle, with some expecting extra time. Another whistle never came. The captains held the cup awkwardly between them. The fans were strangely disciplined. Borrowing an old sports saying, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen said the draw was “like kissing your sister”.

The Lions’ run is second for the Rugby World Cup: the team reunites once every four years to tour the southern hemisphere, and will not return to New Zealand until 2029. It would be unthinkable for such an important event to end without a winner. other sports. Nobody would have accepted a 0-0 draw between Germany and Argentina as the final World Cup decider. The National Football League’s first-and-goal overtime rule may have been flawed, but there would have been an uproar if the Patriots and Falcons had called it 28-28. Even cricket, a sport known for its draws, has a breaking mechanism for a series of level Test matches: the keeper of the cup holds it.

The All Blacks beat the Lions 3-0 in 2005, and it would be an obvious choice if you had to pick a winner this time. They led the overall score in the series 66-54, but the tourists were only ahead of the scoreboard for three out of 240 minutes. If you had told the Lions fans before the tour that they would avoid defeat, they would have been delighted. But most of them were dissatisfied with equality. A poll by Sky Sports, a British broadcaster, showed that five-sixths of respondents were for some form of relationship breakdown.

Two Rugby World Cup finals have been decided by 20-minute extra time, which is usually followed by a ten-minute first-score win and then a shoot-out. RugbyVision estimated that the probability of finishing this series after three tests was only 3%. Nevertheless, omitting a tiebreaker meant that rugby’s most venerable tradition ended in an anticlimax. At today’s strength, such a result would occur 2% of the time against Australia or South Africa, the Lions’ other (and significantly weaker) opponents. That risk is not worth taking.

Although the rules of the tour prevented a suitable finish, several loopholes in the sport’s rule book left fans complaining about the results themselves. An All Black player was suspended in the second test after making contact with an opponent’s head in a collision, an offense which carries the maximum sanction of a red card; a lion escaped with ten minutes in the sin bin for the same shoulder charge. The visitors earned a match-winning penalty in the final minutes of that match, after one of their players jumped towards a tackler while receiving an errant pass and was hit in the air. Off-the-ground tackles are not allowed, but this usually applies to players who collect high kicks: there is no clear prohibition on attackers jumping towards defenders , which would make any attempt to deal with them illegal. There is also no law that prevents the ball carrier from leaning towards a tackle, which increases the risk of contact with the head. Such a challenge led to a yellow card for the All Black defender in the third test.

The biggest controversy was saved for the final match. With 77 minutes on the clock and the scores level, Lions Liam Williams (pictured, centre) jumped to catch a bouncing ball and spilled it. The ball entered closely into Ken Owens, one of his partners (pictured, right), who was returning quickly towards him. Mr. Owens instinctively caught the ball before releasing it. This rapid series of events revealed significant legal flaws. Law 11 says you are offside if you are “in front of a team that played the last ball”, which Mr Owens was. But his crime is governed by two clauses, neither of which has priority.

Rule 11.6 states that “when a primary player cannot avoid touching the ball or being carried by a teammate, the player is inadvertently offside”, a description of is according to Mr Owens’ offence. The sanction for this misconduct is a scrum, which does not immediately allow points to be scored. But clause 11.7 calls for a penalty if “a player hits and an off-side player next plays the ball”. Slow motion replays were inconclusive as to whether Mr Williams had hit the ball forward. Romain Poite, the referee, thought he had. That gave an impossible choice for him. In real time he awarded a penalty under clause 11.7, which would have given the All Blacks victory. After watching several replays, he reduced the penalty to a scrum under clause 11.6, which provided a last-minute comeback for the Lions.

Mr Poite should not have been faced with such a dilemma at a crucial time in the game’s history. A similar incident marred the 2015 World Cup, when Scotland were cruelly denied an improbable victory against Australia by a last minute wrong decision., a refereeing blog, has said the law “needs fixing before it happens again”.

World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, has updated the rules in recent years: the sport only turned professional in 1995, leaving it decades behind almost everything else. He introduced five changes last November, and is trying more among young teams. Under-20 sides are currently trialling new offside rules at rucks, after Italy showed a loophole earlier this year. But they have no plans to make any further changes at senior level before the next World Cup in 2019. The Lions should get their tiebreaker rule in place before they travel to South Africa in 2021. It will come too late, though- however, to prevent harassment. finally to an interesting series.

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