Drop-goals often serve defining moments in both games and tournaments, by why do they hardly happen in the Six Nations?
George Ford’s drop-goals for England against Argentina at last year’s World Cup looked to have revived a seemingly lost art.
Now it appears this ‘game breaker’ has returned to the shadows once more, with the three-pointer a rare sight in the Six Nations – but why?
Drop-goals are regarded by some as an easy route to a strong points advantage during games. To take Ford’s hat-trick of kicks against the Pumas as an example, the nine points he slotted from open play proved to be decisive when the full-time whistle arrived. As most know, however, the easy path is not always the best approach to take.
More often than not, teams who decide to ride the drop-goal rollercoaster are sacrificing the fair opportunity to score seven points – via a try and conversion. This is admittedly a simple equation to make, but it is strongly supported by credible statistics.
According to data revealed by Medium, over the last three years preceding this season in the Gallagher Premiership, teams that go 3-0 up only win 50% of the time. Those who instead push on for a try to break the deadlock alternatively win 65% of the matches in which that occurs.
These fine margins are incredibly significant when it comes to a match’s outcome. In a tournament decided by the tightest of matters, such as the Six Nations, going for those extra points can make all the difference. Drop-goals may be exciting, and something a bit different, for onlookers, but they do not serve the requisite rewards.
Drop-goals: They are a tough trick to pull off
Every child in England from 2003 onwards has likely attempted to replicate Jonny Wilkinson’s World Cup-winning drop-goal. Those kicks are memorable and magnificent, but they are also very challenging – especially in a high-pressure scenario.
To create the perfect situation for a successful drop-goal, the kicker must usually be in acres of space and in a position where such an effort will not require too much precision. Alongside these rarely achieved environmental factors, the player must have sufficient mental steeliness to warn off any concerns about the burly forwards likely charging them down. This is not to mention the fact they can be as far away as around 50 metres from the intended target.
It is, as a result, mostly about possessing a strong kicking ability whilst being ready, and that is an inherently precious commodity on the field.
The Six Nations, therefore, is not the most appropriate place for such wishful thinking. Those playing are more likely than not facing some of the best forwards the world has to offer. Sense and sanity subsequently look for a more reliable way to score points in the competition. Doing otherwise is asking for rough punishment.
Some may point to Ronan O’Gara’s Six Nations winning drop-goal against Wales in 2009, or Johnny Sexton’s remarkable 40-yard effort in 2018 away to France as examples this technique is one that can and should be used more often in the championship. This suggestion nevertheless misses the point that they are an anomaly in the modern game. Drop-goals may carry an element of surprise and magic, but that is about it.
Such a point is further reinforced by the low success rates associated with attempting drop-goals in the Six Nations. According to data supplied by Oval, the 2010 edition of the tournament provided the highest amount of these three-pointers (11) since 2003. Albeit it a significantly high number, this figure amounted to only a 46% success rate. When comparing this to the 83 penalties scored at a 74% success rate during the same championship, it is clear to see the risk involved in attempting such an effort.
This gamble is additionally reflected by the fact that, since 2010, no other Six Nations has produced more than five completed drop-goals (In 2023 there was only one) – thereby reducing it to relic status, and one perhaps not worth the risks required.
That said, there may be a day when drop-goals do enjoy a true and long-lasting renaissance in the game. Given the problems surrounding them at present, it is unlikely this will happen – especially in the Six Nations. However, dreamers will dream.