Dropgoal: Still an unused weapon by the All Blacks
OPINION: Rugbypass columnist Campbell Burnes looks at why All Blacks refused to utilise the dropgoal during the draw against the Wallabies.
Jonny Wilkinson, Hugo Porta and Naas Botha would have snapped a dropped goal in similar circumstances.
So would Dan Carter and Grant Fox, for that matter.
We are, of course, talking about the dropped goal that didn’t happen during the dying throes of Bledisloe One in Wellington. Neither the All Blacks nor the Wallabies opted for a pot, which would have broken the deadlock for either side in those last, frantic seven or eight minutes.
The All Blacks, it must be said, were better positioned, and were forming rucks almost right between the uprights as the drama unfolded.
*Article continues below…
Why did they not attempt a dropped goal to break the deadlock and win the game? The fact they did not deserve to win the match is neither here nor there. Professional sport is about winning, finding a way to win, even if you do not deserve the result.
Ian Foster was never going to hang his playmakers, notably, Richie Mo’unga, out to dry, but he did tend to fudge the issue, admitting they were set up for the pot but backing a call from Jordie Barrett for another option.
And yet the Wallabies’ defence had proven tight as a drum for most of the contest. The All Blacks eschewed a late penalty shot at goal, before Sam Cane told Barrett to shoot for an easier goal in the 77th minute. That made it 16-all. The All Blacks were not thinking of a draw at that stage.
When Reece Hodge let fly with his 54m penalty goal attempt as time wound down, they were thinking about a loss. To their credit, they did the right things under pressure in working field position while guarding the ball with their life.
Why, then, did Mo’unga not snap the goal when it was on? This aversion to dropped goals is mystifying. Carter, one of the most attacking-minded first fives of all time, won a test against Ireland in Christchurch back in 2012 by taking a calm three points to break a 19-all deadlock. He kicked 19 dropped goals in his long first-class career.
That pales into insignificance, though, when you consider that Barry Fairbrother of South Canterbury holds the NZ record with 61, at better than a pot every two games. Fox kicked 47, Andrew Mehrtens 54, though one miss – in the 1995 RWC final – will haunt him for all time.
In 1984, Jean-Patrick Lescarboura famously missed four late pots at Lancaster Park as France pushed the All Blacks 10-9. He was inconsolable, but just needed to be better under pressure.
Do not forget that the 1986 Baby Blacks snapped three dropped goals – shared by Frano Botica and Greg Cooper – to shade France, whose nine points all came from pots by the same Lescarboura.
There is a certain arrogance in saying that you are good enough to score a try in the 85th minute of an even contest in the wind and rain against a staunch and committed defence. There is an easier option, if your skill is up to it, and it’s the winning option.
The All Blacks do not appear to have learned from history. In 2007, the lost a Rugby World Cup quarter-final they did not deserve to win due to a slavish adherence to a ball in hand philosophy which was not paying dividends against a desperate French side and a referee that was not blowing his whistle.
But there were signs that this blinkered thinking was changing. In 2018, Beauden Barrett slotted two dropped goals in consecutive test weeks on the northern tour. The three points were effectively the difference in the 16-15 victory over England.
The introduction of golden point into Super Rugby Aotearoa saw several successful dropped goal attempts this season, though only Bryn Gatland’s for the Highlanders against the Chefs could be called a match-winner. Still, it showed kickers were thinking about it and, just as importantly, practising it regularly.
It would be nice to think you can beat every side you play by scoring sparkling tries by the bucketful. Life is not that simple, and there are several ways to win a game of rugby.
Even last season, there were, by my count, just five successful drop goals attempts in New Zealand first-class rugby, and one was by North Otago prop Ralph Darling in the Meads Cup final.
Foster admitted that the All Blacks had, astonishingly, not even practised the option during test week. Dave Rennie said the Wallabies had practised it, but nothing came of it in Wellington.
We know this much: both teams will be assiduously practising kicking dropped goals this week. For if we find ourselves in the same situation at around 17.45 (local time) this Sunday on the Garden of Eden, someone is going to take the easy option and win it for his team.
By Campbell Burnes, Rugbypass