KOBE (Reuters) - Bonus points helped Scotland deprive Japan of a quarter-final place at the Rugby World Cup in 2015 and Gregor Townsend’s side may again need their help to deny the ‘Brave Blossoms’ a spot in the knockout stages this time around.
First introduced at the World Cup in 2003, bonus points are awarded to teams scoring four tries or more, and to sides beaten by less than eight points.
The system has encouraged teams to go for tries instead of racking up points from the boot, while losing sides also have a reason to play until the final whistle, knowing they could still earn points in defeat.
While largely seen as a positive at the World Cup, the availability of bonus points has created a whole new level of complexity in trying to predict how groups will finish.
In 2015 Japan’s failure to pick up bonus points saw them become the first team to win three pool games and fail to reach the knockout rounds of a World Cup, this after delivering the biggest shock in rugby by beating South Africa in their opener.
Four years on, Japan have produced another stunning upset with their victory over Ireland but their hopes of making it beyond the group phase for the first time could again come down to bonus points.
A crunch encounter with Scotland in Pool A’s final game looms as a do-or-die clash.
The Scots, well beaten by Ireland in their opener, got themselves back in the mix with a bonus-point victory over Samoa on Monday, though coach Townsend gave a measured response when asked if he was a fan of the scoring system.
“My answer would be biased towards whatever works in our favour,” he said with a laugh.
“The bonus point is something we are all used to, we’ve had it now in a few tournaments we play in. At the end of the day we know that we’ll have to win our next two games.
“We knew the rules going into it. If it means we have to score four tries and deny Japan a bonus point then that will be an even bigger challenge for us to take on.”
The impact bonus points can have at the World Cup was clear in Ireland’s defeat to Japan.
Joe Schmidt’s side trailed the hosts by seven as time expired but instead of pushing for the try that would earn them a face-saving draw, replacement flyhalf Joey Carbery booted the ball out of play, sparking wild celebrations up and down Japan.
While it was initially unclear whether Carbery, who had been deep in his own dead-ball area, had deliberately kicked for touch, the New Zealand-born playmaker said securing the bonus point was a key factor in his decision.
“I knew we were still in with a losing bonus point and I didn’t see too many other options on so I just put it out,” he said.
While Ireland might have been able to go the length of the field and score the seven points to tie the game they may also have coughed up the ball and given Japan the chance to put more points on the board, denying them a bonus point.
Forwards coach Simon Easterby said they might look back on Carbery’s kick and realise it was “a great decision”.
“The clock was ticking. We back the players whatever they decide and I think that point could well serve us well down the line,” he said.
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty