Time's up for drawn rugby union games. We need extra-time in Tests | Bret Harris

Bret Harris
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Kurtley Beale described the recent drawn game in South Africa as a ‘dull feeling’ and suggested rugby copy league and play extra time.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images</span>
Kurtley Beale described the recent drawn game in South Africa as a ‘dull feeling’ and suggested rugby copy league and play extra time. Photograph: Gallo Images/Getty Images

Back to back draws between the Wallabies and the Springboks in less than a month have strengthened the argument for extra time to be introduced into Test rugby.

The Wallabies drew 23-all with the Springboks in Perth and 27-all in Bloemfontein, 160 minutes of rugby which did not produce a result.

Wallabies playmaker Kurtley Beale described the draw in Bloemfontein as a “dull feeling” and suggested rugby copy rugby league and play extra time.

Sport is about emotion as much as skill and fitness. There is nothing worse than walking off the field feeling nothing or leaving the grandstand without a cheer or even a tear.

Traditionalists would say extra time undermines the integrity of the 80 minutes of regular time. When the fulltime whistle blows that’s it, game over.

But of course rugby does have extra time in the World Cup playoffs, a necessity in tournament play where teams advance through the finals matches to determine the champion.

Imagine if there were no extra time in the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney and Jonny Wilkinson never kicked that match-winning field goal. Australia and England would have been declared joint winners after drawing 17-all at the end of 80 minutes. How deflating would that have been?

While every Test match is not of the same magnitude as a World Cup final or even a quarter-final, you could argue there should always be a winner and a loser to avoid that empty feeling.

More than anything else a sporting event is an experience for players and spectators alike and at the heart of that experience is winning and losing, which defines the contest.

That is not to say all draws are meaningless or emotionless. Look at the contrasting reactions to the drawn series between the All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions. You would have thought the tourists had won the series. Ridiculed Lions coach Warren Gatland even wore a red clown’s nose to a media conference to literally thumb his nose at his Kiwi critics. He would not have done that if he had not felt vindicated.

Conversely, All Blacks captain Kieran Read did not know whether to laugh or cry when he held the trophy aloft with Lions skipper Sam Warburton. Extra time after that 15-all draw in the third Test in Auckland would have been brilliant.

In most cases a draw is a dull feeling just as Beale described. Players and fans seek the gratification of winning, the elixir of sport. A draw is too often a waste of time and energy.

It is not as if draws are common in Test rugby, but there is the potential for a draw in every game that is played. You would not want too many games left undecided. That would indeed be dull.

If a little bit of extra time or even a golden score ensured a winner, then surely that is something which should be considered quite strongly.

Extra time increases spectator interest in a contest. Just think of the thrilling overtime games in NBA basketball for example.

Not all sports like the idea though and it does not seem likely World Rugby will introduce extra time to Tests outside the World Cup any time soon. It would mess with television schedules for a start.

So the best way to avoid that hollow feeling is to find a way to win those tight games, something the Wallabies should be paying particularly close attention to.

In three of their last four Tests the Wallabies have lost narrowly to the All Blacks and drawn twice with the Springboks. In all three games Australia have been found wanting in critical moments whether it is failing to win a vital restart or not securing the ball in a last-ditch attack. Little things that really add up and weigh heavily against you.

This is something the Wallabies will need to address as they head towards the 2019 World Cup in Japan, starting with their final game of the Rugby Championship against Argentina in Mendoza on Sunday.

There will not be any dull feelings in the knockout stages of the World Cup, just the ecstasy of victory or the agony of defeat, perhaps as it should be after every Test.

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