By Gary Watton
IT’S TEN years since Jonny Wilkinson helped net rugby’s greatest prize courtesy of a dramatic drop-goal. And it’s four years since the now retired Ronan O’Gara dropped a goal in the dying minutes in Cardiff to secure Ireland’s first Grand Slam in 61 years.
Just two examples of when drop-goals proved critical. So why has there been a sharp decline in the use of such a weapon?
Were it not for Dan Biggar’s last-day three-pointer against England, there would have been only one match in this year’s Six Nations which contained a drop-goal: Italy’s defeat of France.
The evidence indicates that fly-halves only go for a drop-goal when a penalty has been awarded and a referee is playing advantage, so the drop-goal is the equivalent of cricket’s free hit.
Clearly the introduction of the five-point try in the early 1990s has struck a blow to the art of dropping goals. Teams venturing deep into enemy territory have had to decide whether to have a pop at the drop, or chisel away at the defence and run the risk of a turnover, knock-on or ruck infringement.
And the stats tell us that sides prefer to gamble on the greater prize of seven points for a converted try.
Over the past two Six Nations tournaments, only five games out of 30 have yielded drop-goals. This contrasts with the heyday of such ammo in the 1980s, when 56 of the decade’s 100 Five Nations skirmishes saw at least one successful drop-goal.
This 56% volume slipped to a mere 31 out of 100 championship Tests in the 1990s. And the infant Six Nations that followed saw drop-goals in only 45 of its first 150 contests, a meagre 30% of the matches.
Such a trend is visible too with the Lions: in their 15 Tests dating back to 1993, there have been a paltry three drop-goals – compared to 17 in the previous 23 contests.
Yet given that defences are proving tougher to crack and sustained attacks less effective, many teams have cause to question the wisdom of not bagging some reward for their pressure.
The drop-goal’s decline is a matter of regret to purists who appreciate the skill and teamwork in an attacking foray that culminates in an accurate drop-goal attempt. Is it time to increase its value to four points, in order to persuade fly-halves that the occasional drop-goal represents good value?
I for one believe it is.
This was published in the July 2013 edition of Rugby World. Click here to see what’s in the current issue.