Scrums have come under a great deal of scrutiny in recent years, however should penalties be getting the same level of negative attention.
With increasingly complex and time consuming pre-kick rituals entering the game, something must be done. Complaints are made the world over about reset scrums taking up too much game time, but little consideration seems to be given to the fact that a penalty can often eat up 90 seconds on the clock.
Unfortunately, the time is not stopped when a penalty is awarded, instead kickers await the arrival of the tee, remove scrum caps, take a drink, place the ball, fiddle with it a little bit more, take several steps dash, do a bit of a shuffle, look at the posts like they just murdered their family, and then finally begin their run up to strike the ball.
At the end of the day, fans are paying to see a game of rugby, not to waste time watching kickers laborious routines. As a rough guide for example, between 2001-2008, there were an average of 20 penalties per game in both the Tri-Nations and Six Nations. Now let’s imagine for a second that half of these are within kickable range – that’s ten penalties a game which average a minimum of 60 seconds per kick – that is potentially 10 minutes per game (12% of an entire game is spent watching penalties being kicked).
As a fan, if I’m paying £50 for a ticket, that is £6 spent on watching penalties. Now whilst a last minute penalty to clinch a game can be quite exciting, a penalty five minutes into the game does not hold the same entertainment value as a team who kicks for the corner and then attempts to go for the try.
Given the range of players is increasing at a rapid rate, we are now at the stage where a penalty awarded almost anywhere in the oppositions half is likely to result in a kick at goal, in some instances, even penalties awarded inside team’s own halves result in a kick at the posts. It is pretty clear therefore that something needs to be done.
The idea of reducing the number of points available for a penalty has been mooted and has some merit, however another potential option could be to increase the difficulty of such a kick. Therefore, could the introduction of drop goals rather than kicks off the tee be the answer?
This way, teams are still discouraged from fouling inside their own half, however there is more incentive for the attacking team to kick to the corner or take a quick tap as the chances of success with the penalty are that much lower. Even if a team did opt to take the drop goal attempt, there would be no wait for a tee to come onto the field, or for a long winded kicking routine – just see how quickly sevens players take conversions.
It may not be the perfect response, but something clearly needs to be done. Whether it is a case of giving teams a maximum of say 60 seconds to take a kick, or stopping the clock whilst a kick takes place, fans will be getting much better value for their money.