I came to this ‘startling’ realisation for two reasons; firstly a Sean Maloney highlight reel of Super XV try scorers has once again reignited my interest in the tournament and led to me watching a few more games recently which have been full (for the most part) of open attacking rugby with plenty of tries.
Secondly having watched several of the games from the final weekend of the Aviva Premiership (and highlighted from the rest) I realised what a talented bunch of players we have currently plying their trade in England, and just how many of them are capable of scoring magnificent tries that have fans on their feet rubbing their eyes.
Unfortunately more often than not this is not the case with teams over-coached into a boring, pragmatic approach to the game that sees long kicks for territory, watertight defence and little ambition when it comes to scoring points.
I can’t say I blame coaches for wanting to take the available points on offer when the ground is churning up and the ball is greasy, but this obsession with taking 3 points whenever on offer (as best demonstrated by the wonderfully dull-at-times Saracens team)often turns mouth-watering fixtures into low-scoring snoozefests that fail to warm fans hearts in the cold winter months.
At this point it would be very easy for me to start an argument for the introduction of summer rugby, or at least a slight restructuring of the season to include more games on firmer-grounds, but I will save that for another time as for now I want to focus on the key issue of penalty kicks and their domination of team tactics.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to suggest every team in the Northern Hemisphere rely on penalty kicks to get points on the board, there are some fantastic exceptions such as Leinster, Glasgow Warriors, Harlequins and London Wasps, but increasingly so more and more teams are turning to players with huge boots to lead the points scoring efforts.
And when you have players like Tom Homer, Elliot Daly and Owen Farrell who can seemingly put the ball over from 50+ metres at a canter who can blame them? Why risk kicking a penalty to touch at the risk of losing possession at the line-out or losing a turnover when they can secure 3 easy points from the relative comfort of their own half.
The video above should give you a pretty good demonstration of some truly impressive kicks from distance. Whilst this may be interesting to witness every once in a while, it is the kind of scores you can see in the video below that really gets fans cheering.
Let’s face it, the foundations of rugby are based in one teams ability to break through another teams defence to ground the ball over the try line. Unfortunately at the moment the perceived risk of attempting to score tries is seen as too high compared to the perceived benefit of scoring from penalty kicks. The IRB need therefore to look at ways of rewarding the teams for showing attacking intent.
I’m not for a second suggesting that teams should be awarded points for attempting to score tries, but there is no reason they cannot attempt to dissuade teams from taking the easy points scoring option. If the powers that be truly have ambitions to open rugby up to a global audience then it is essential that they make it the most attractive prospect possible for floating fans and even non-supporters.
The best and most obvious way to make the game more appealing to a global audience is to make it exciting to watch and easy to understand. What can be simpler to get your head around than two sets of players trying to ground the ball over an obvious try line instead of scratching their heads as to why one team has received a penalty and not the other.
To further emphasise the point of how boring the game has become, in the years six nations less than 35% of all points scored came from tries. When you consider that a try is worth more points than a penalty kick then you can start to see a picture emerging.
In total there were just 37 tries scored during the 15 games of the six nations, that’s less than two and a half per game. What’s even more damming is that 16 of the 37 tries scored occurred during the opening round of the six nations. That means that just 21 tries were scored during 12 games this year, this is reflected in the fact that over 65% of all points scored came from the boot, England were the worst offenders scoring 73% of their points from kicks.
Meanwhile Euro 2012 saw an average of 2.45 goals per game during the tournament. How is rugby ever expected to compete with football for fans attention when we are seeing such a poor return for our hard earned money? To me a high scoring game with plenty of free-flowing rugby seems the best way to attract interest from outside of the usual supporter base for rugby union.
It is clear penalties still play a key role in the game as who wants to see knock-on after knock-on followed by multiple collapsed scrums when the ground is cold and wet? Penalty kicks can therefore save us from seeing this growing phenomenon in world rugby, but there is still a need to encourage teams to work harder to score tries.
I don’t think increasing the number of points earned for scoring a try should be increased as this will have other knock-on effects to the game such as having to change the losing bonus-point rule. Instead the IRB should look to reduce the number of points available for a penalty kick to 2. I believe drop-goals should still retain their 3 point value due to the difficulty and complexity of carrying one off effectively.
If the value of a penalty was reduced to just 2 points then there would also have to be considerable thought given to the value of tries and conversions, although I believe the greater the difference in value the more likely we are to see teams attempting to score tries rather than penalties.
This change in scoring values would result in teams having to score 3 rather than 2 penalties in order to better the advantage gained from an un-converted try and have to score 4 rather than 3 penalties to overcome the deficit caused by conceding a converted try. This would be an added consideration for players and coaches before points for the posts.
This would hopefully therefore help to avoid a situation like we had the other weekend when just two tries were scored during both Heineken Cup semi-finals. Would you be happy if your team took a shot at the posts from 50 metres when 7 points down knowing that you would need 3 more like it to bridge the gap?
What do you reckon? Are you happy with the way points are currently distributed or do you think something needs to be changed?