Why not more drop goals?

Amidst an otherwise busy weekend I was able to catch most of the first weekend of the Six Nations’ Championship. Rugby is not an area of expertise for me, but it is a sport I generally very much enjoy watching.

A colleague raised a question on Facebook not long ago: why do teams not attempt more drop goals?

This thought occurred to me again as two drop goals, worth six points in total, proved the difference in Italy’s five-point win over France. So it is fair to raise the question again.

South Africa has always, as a matter of course, sought to ensure its teams never leave the 22 without scoring, and are thus more likely to attempt drop goals than those from other countries. Indeed, the national team earned near notoriety in the 1999 World Cup quarter-final against England, with Jannie de Beer scoring no fewer than five in quick succession to leave the English perplexed and beaten. (They needed him again at the equivalent stage twelve years late, when South Africa dominated Australia but contrived, despite spending almost the entire match in Aussie territory, only to score nine points to their opponents’ eleven).

However, the culture in other countries has been, generally, to shirk the drop goal aside from at the very end of the game. I do wonder if this is exactly that – a “culture”. Is there a sense that drop goals just aren’t fair play, somehow?

Perhaps those more expert in the game at the highest level could explain?!

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4 thoughts on “Why not more drop goals?

  1. Seymour Major says:

    A very good question and one which may have been answered, partly, by the drop goals that we had over the weekend, including two crucial scores in their match with France.

    I think it all boils down to percentages. After South Africa’s successes in 1999, top international teams took measures to prevent field goal opportunities. When a team is in possession in the opposition 22, the fly-half is watched very carefully. More often than not, if it looks as if drop goal attempt is about to be made, the defending team has somebody charging at the fly-half. Often, there is not enough time and the attempt goes wide. Because of those odds, a drop-goal is unlikely to be as attractive as seeking a try or a forced penalty from the defending team.

    On a broader note, it was a wonderful weekend of rugby. As an Englishman who is half Irish, I also got all the results that I wanted. England, in particular, seem to be on the verge of becoming a World force again. They will lose a few matches along the way, as did the England team 2000-2003 but I have not been as excited about an England team since 2001. Next week’s match at the Aviva Stadium will be a cracker.

  2. otto says:

    A bit of both I think Ian.

    On culture here’s a Kiwi piece which mentions ‘scraping the bottom of the barrel for points’.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/local-papers/the-wellingtonian/sport/7142712/All-Blacks-belatedly-embrace-drop-goals

    But on Seymour’s point regarding percentages the restart from an unsuccessful drop goal that goes dead is a kick from the 22 and a line-out at the point the ball crosses the line into touch. With a missed drop goal you can take your team from an attacking position near the opponents posts to a defending position at the other end of the pitch. Risky. You need to be very confident with clear space under the posts (so why not go for the try), desperate or it’s late in the game and there’s not much time left on the clock for the opposition to take advantage if you do screw up.

    Those are my half-baked thoughts anyway. I wonder if anyone’s ever made a study. As a flanker and a second row I’ve never kicked a drop-goal in a match in my life!

  3. Baz G says:

    I have been asking this for a while now on rugby forums and nobody seems to think it worth discussing. In the recent England-Ireland game, a drop goal would have drawn the game for Ireland.

    I wonder about the number of attempted drop goals these days and their success rate. Doers anybody have those stats? Players don’t seem to be getting much better at it which suggests to me that coaches aren’t making them practice. I certainly haven’t seen a player trying to emulate Jannie de Beer’s famous achievement recently.

    Regarding defences, I would say that if you had more than one drop-kicker on the team they would be a lot harder to charge down. Also, guys like Kearney can hit them from near half-way and should be encouraged to have a go. Decoy runners could be useful as well.

    • Yes, I wondered actually whether Ireland were deliberately going for the Triple Crown.

      I am by no means an expert but the one sporting prize I ever won in my life was the school drop-kicking competition. Ergo, they can’t be *that* difficult!!

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