Encouraging Attacking Rugby or Rewarding Mediocrity?

sale sharks saracensSince the Rugby World Cup of 2003 rugby union teams have been rewarded for losing. Let me say that again. If a team LOSES by seven points or less they gain what’s called a Losing Bonus Point (LBP). In no other sport that I can think of does this happen. After Tottenham’s recent visit to Manchester City (they lost 6-0, oh the pain!) they didn’t return with anything extra in their points column nor should they.

The LBP was introduced to “encourage attacking play throughout a match, to discourage repetitive goal kicking, and to reward teams for COMING CLOSE in losing efforts”. Now, I have nothing against the first two statements. I’m sure we can all remember watching games growing up consisting of endless scrums and mauls interspersed with the the odd kick at goal or ten. It’s how England played for most most of the Nineties!

Attacking play has further been rewarded with the introduction of the Try Bonus Point. A team that scores four tries or more in one match are given an extra point. Brilliant! No problem with that. I’m all for any innovation that makes the sport of rugby more enjoyable to watch and play in. And I understand the argument that, say, with ten minutes to go a team will keep playing till the final whistle in the hope of gaining a LBP, making it a much more interesting spectacle for the supporters than before the scheme was introduced.

And I get all that, I really do. But what I can’t get my head around is rewarding a team for “coming close”. This isn’t what professional sport should be about. In American sports its virtually impossible for a game to end in a draw. Maybe this is taking it one step too far but I’m all for their intentions. You go out to win, not hope to lose by a certain amount.

Ask Newcastle fans what they think of the LBP. In 2012 they were relegated from the Premiership after losing two less games over the season than the team who finished above them (14 to Wasps 16). However, Wasps gained 8 losing bonus points to Newcastle 4 meaning the Falcons went down. For those wondering the Try Bonus Points were 1-0 to Wasps so you can see the effect the LBPs had on the outcome.

Wasps fans will quite rightly say that they were the rules before the season started and both teams knew that but for me it doesn’t quite sit right. Over the course of the season one team won more games than another so surely they deserve to stay in the league?

I will now show you how fickle I and all sports fans are! Last weekend my team Sale travelled away to Saracens, a fixture we have only won once since 1995. Yet we led at half time, had a try disallowed in the second half and only finally relinquished our lead with five minutes to go. With the last kick of the game we had a penalty that would have brought us within five and yes you’ve guessed it the dreaded LBP.

Did I cheer when it went over? You bet I did!

Would I have done so if the boot and been on the other foot? I think you know the answer by now…