What’s the (bonus) Point Posted almost 12 years ago

I was just wondering if there is anyone else out there who hates rugby’s daft bonus point system. There is no other sport out there that rewards teams on how close they came or how entertaining they have been at the expense of results over a season. Even the old, subjective ‘artistic merit’ points awarded in ice skating seem sensible in comparison.

Wherever you look rugby is rife with sporting injustice. At the top of England’s premier league Leicester have home field advantage over Saracens despite having a worse record (won 15 lost 6 against won 16 lost 5) over the course of the season. At the bottom Newcastle face relegation despite having lost two fewer games than Wasps.

The same sort of nonsense is taking place in the Super 15. The Stormers have the best record of any team (only one loss) but are fourth in the table because they only have one bonus point. The Sharks are a point ahead of the Highlanders despite a record of won 6 lost 5 against won 7 and lost 4.

It probably does not behove the Highlanders to complain too much, however, because it was new Zealand who came up with this piffle in the first place. As a means of rewarding attacking rugby it was introduced to the NPC in 1995 and then into the Super 12 in 1996. Professionalism has much to answer for.

Taken ad absurdum, a team could lose 20-125 and earn themselves a four try bonus point, an equal reward to a team that loses 9-7 to a last minute penalty goal from a dodgy referee. But rugby’s officials are so infatuated with the need to entertain, at whatever the cost to the integrity of the game, that the bonus point system even exists at the World Cup.

I much prefer the system used in football’s Champions League. There are no extra points for scoring five or more goals. It’s an unfair measure because one team could potentially cash in at the end of the group stages against another side with nothing to play for. Instead, in the event of two teams finishing on an equal number of points, the fixtures between those teams are used as the first tiebreaker.

How good would that be at the Rugby World Cup. It would also give the minnows more of a chance. With a weaker depth of playing squad and a more taxing schedule due to TV demands, the lower ranked countries have almost no chance of competing for bonus points against the first tier nations.

But if the Champions League method had been used at the previous World Cup then Tonga’s match against France would have had a real edge and the Pacific Islanders would have knocked out the eventual finalists in the pool stages.

Instead this grotesque bonus point system has even infiltrated lower leagues that should be all about the players and not the spectators. Despite the Latin derivation there is nothing good about the bonus point.

Mercifully the Six Nations remains aloof from this inequable frippery. Ponder this – if the 2002 Six Nations had awarded bonus points then England would have won the Championship, even though France won the Grand Slam that year. Even if the points had been upped to four for a win, France and England would have both finished on 21 and England would have claimed the title on points difference.

The Americans are world champions at wringing out the last bit of entertainment value from a sport, but even they have yet to start awarding bonus points to the team with the best set of cheerleaders. They still place an old fashioned value on how many times a team wins and how many times a team loses. There’s something to be said for it.

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Mark Reason has been a sports journalist for over 25 years. He currently works for Fairfax Media and will also be part of the Telegraph's World Cup team and a regular panellist on Radio New Zealand during the World Cup. He has covered every Rugby World Cup since 1991, the 2000 and 2008 Olympics, over 40 golf major championships, the FA Cup final, the Epsom Derby and a lot of other stuff he can't remember. Mark emigrated to New Zealand in 2010 having spent over 20 years covering sport for the Telegraph and Sunday Times in Britain.

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