Rugby is a simple game made complicated. A sport which from the outside looks so obvious: we have to stop you getting here, and in turn you have to stop us getting there.
That something with such a simple premise can get embroiled in debates surrounding finest the interpretation of the rules, as we’ve seen this week, goes a long way to debunk this simplistic narrative.
And thus, I bring you the cross-kick: something which too, like rugby, seems simplistic and brash to the uninformed onlooker but on further inspection reveals acute skill in every aspect.
It’s obvious, surely? We can’t run it past you, because every time we try to do that you stop us; and we can’t kick it over you because we’re close to the try-line and it’ll go in to touch. So, what to do? We’ll kick it from one side to the other, close to your try line, and hope that our (usually) winger is better at catching than your (often) winger (sometimes full-back).
And yet, for something that appears so straightforward, the cross-kick remains the most artistic and satisfying way to score in rugby. A manoeuvre pulled off only by the most skilful, it embodies the sport’s complexity and nuance.
The perfect cross-kick requires three things: timing, accuracy and a shed-load of confidence.
To pull defenders into the ruck in order to leave space out-wide; to neither under nor over-weight the kick, risking interception or lineout; and of course, the danger that hard yards can be wasted when the easy thing to do would be to hold on to the ball. All these circumstances must coalesce to deliver a cross-kick, but if successful, it’s a thing of beauty.
There have been a few of these in this World Cup, but the best by far has been Finn Russel and Sean Maitland’s combination in Scotland’s 34-0 victory over Samoa on Monday.
The platonic ideal of a cross-kick. An arching ball seemingly lasered by Russel’s right boot into a gap behind the Samoan line. Weighted so precisely that Maitland neither had to deviate his line nor falter his stride, leaving the winger only to shrug off a defender and place the ball over the try-line. It was over in a couple of seconds, it looked almost languid in its ease, but it was exquisite.
Written by Will Sewell