Winning the final battle loosing the farce

May 4, 2009

I was witness to a unique event yesterday, namely the first penalty shoot out in Rugby. The Blues (my team) scored two tries in the final six minutes to force extra time. It was an extraordinary and exciting moment, all the more exceptional as both were scored on the margins of the pitch, but both conversions were made. No scores in extra time and the penalty shoot out starts as both sides had also scored two tries each (if one had scored more that would have determined it). As it worked out Leicester missed first but then we missed as well, and it went to sudden death with the forwards and we lost.

Now I have watched many a penalty shoot out in soccer and they are exciting, but this wasn’t. From the perspective of the crowd it was not even entertaining, it was an endurance test. There was no contest and the skills were simply not there in most of the participants for penalty taking. In soccer there is a contest between the goal keeper and the striker. Not only that all soccer players kick the ball. Yesterday it was just place the ball and kick it, and only two/three players per side have any training or experience in taking such kicks.  Martyn Williams is one of the world’s greatest loose forwards, to ask him to kick a penalty is a nonsense.   It really wasn’t a test of skills.

Now this is not sour grapes, if we had won it would have been against the run of play and it would have been a great escape. On the day we failed to adjust our tactics and kicked too much possession away to Murphy (who was my man of the match) instead of playing the running/possession game that we finally rediscovered in the final ten minutes. So while I am very disappointed I am not blaming this for the outcome. I do have a complaint that it took so long for the referee to yellow card Leicester for consistently preventing release, and they were more street wise (that is not a compliment). They also sneaked back on a goal kicker who had been taken off the pitch as a “blood replacement” which is playing on the margins of the rules. However overall one cannot complain too much about the result.

I think the idea of a penalty kick off was thrown in as a resolution mechanism without really thinking it through. Now we have seen it in practice it was cruel to the players. Maybe a better solution is one attacker, two defenders (as happens in a lot of rugby training) attempting to score a try from a standing start? Something, anything which is a contest not a lottery

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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