Thu 26 Mar 2020 | 06:36

Scoring down the years

Scoring down the years
Thu 26 Mar 2020 | 06:36
Scoring down the years

In the beginning there were no points in the game as played at Rugby School. The goal counted. The aim (goal) was to get the ball over the crossbar. That ended the game. Grounding the ball over the opponents’ line gave you the opportunity to attempt (try) to improve (convert) the effort into a goal. The try did not count. The goal did. And, of course, a goal could be scored from the field of play.


The match could go on for several days till a goal was scored but in 1845, when first the “rules” were written, the following was stated:

Rule 20: All matches are drawn after five days, but after three if no goal is kicked.

Then tries began to count when the match was given a time limit. Then you could win by 1 goal and 3 tries to 1 goal and 2 tries. Even a touchdown in self-defence could count against you. This sort of touchdown was called a minor or a rouge. Some antedeluvians still speak of minoring the ball. You could even have a draw in your favour if the number of rouges in your favour exceeded those of the opposition.

Eventually points were introduced. Several different systems were used. By one system, in 1874, Guy’s beat St Thomas’s 390-0. Then a goal counted 25 points, a try ten points and a rouge one point. Note that there were no points for a penalty goal.

If that scoring system had been applied to the 2019 World Cup final, the score would have been 51-2 in South Africa’s favour.

That was all pre-1886 when the Rugby Football Union adopted the way of scoring used by Cheltenham College, the great school in England’s West Country.


In 1886 a try counted one point, the conversion two points, a dropped goal three points and a goal from a mark three points. The try plus the conversion goal. In other words the goal still counted.

The value of the conversion is the only one which has remained unchanged for 134 years.

In 1889 the try was increased to two points. That meant that the goal which was made up of a try and a conversion was worth four points, a point more than a drop or a goal from a mark.

In 1891 the scoring was changed and the try sank back to one point and, most significantly, it became possible to score a goal from a penalty. That, too was worth three points to keep all goals worth three points.


Two years later the game went back to its origins in a sense by increasing the value of the goals scored from the field. The drop was increased to four points and the goal from the mark to four points.

But in 1893 the try became worth three points, as it was to remain for 78 years. That means that the goal involving a try was worth five points, the drop and the goal from the mark four points, and the goal from a penalty three points.

In 1905 the drop stayed at four points but the goal from the mark became worth only three points, as it had been in 1889 and as it remained till 1978.

In 1924, South Africa played New Zealand at Ellis Park in Johannesburg. Each side kicked a penalty goal and a dropped goal, but New Zealand won 7-6. Their drop goal by Archie Strange was in general play, while Phil Mostert’s was from a mark.

Scoring then had its longest period of stability – 43 years without a change.

The change came in 1948 when the dropped goal was dropped to three points. Now the try, the penalty goal, the drop goal  and the goal from a mark were all worth three points each with the conversion at two points.

The changes from now on were to the value of the try and the eradication of the goal from a mark as free kicks came in for certain offences at scrums and lineouts before play had started,¬† and marks were confined to the defending team’s quarter of the field.

In 1971 the try was increased to four points and then in 1992 to five points. The try deserves something special, for, after all, it is the crowning achievement of a rugby match.

Since then there has been no tampering with the scoring system in the vast majority of rugby union matches.

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