Adam Hathaway reports on a very rare beast, spotted at Harlequins on Saturday, says the All Blacks could learn a lesson from Freddie Burns, and thinks the Pumas win in Australia could be bad news for Eddie Jones.
A funny thing happened at the Stoop on Saturday during Bath’s 37-32 win over Harlequins – someone, in this case Freddie Burns, the Bath fly-half, dropped a goal. It is almost unheard of in the modern game but, in case anyone has forgotten, they are still worth three points.
Drop goals are becoming rarer than hens’ teeth in modern rugby and Burns’, which was an ugly, low, scudding effort after 34 minutes was the first scored in the Premiership this season and we were more than two rounds in by then.
Back in the, quite recent, day Andy Goode made a living out of scoring drop goals for about a million clubs around the world but they have gone bang out of fashion.
Maybe Burns is onto something.
Burns’ desperate three-pointer won’t win any awards for beauty as it barely hauled itself over the crossbar but it got the visitors into the lead at 18-15 and they led until the end of a panic-stricken game when Quins nearly overhauled them.
And, oh boy, the Kiwis could have done with one as they went down 36-34 to the Springboks in Wellington earlier in the day.
That was their first loss to South Africa in New Zealand since 2009 but the hosts were undone by pushing for a try to win the match. Just knock it over the sticks Beauden Barrett or Damian McKenzie and get the game won.
Barrett, the All Blacks’ fly-half could hardly hit a barn door with his place kicking so he might as well have had a crack at a drop.
Last play of the game, clock in the red and they blew it and head coach Steve Hansen knew it.
Forwards love a drop goal when the hair gel merchants in the back line manage to get one over.
They have sweated and grunted to get the team into a decent position and are rewarded with a three-pointer sailing over them before they rumble back for the kick-off.
Most of the fat lads up front would take that instead of seeing some fancy Dan No.10 get intercepted or throw a ridiculous pass that goes to ground.
Even if a team have penalty advantage it is worth a pop, you will go back for the place kick if you miss, and we can’t work out why they are ignored so often.
Keep the scoreboard ticking over – there is nothing like it to knock the stuffing out of opposing sides but in last year’s Premiership there were just eight successful drop goals and Rhys Priestland got two of them in one game for Bath.
Jannie de Beer scored five of them for South Africa when they knocked England out of the 1999 World Cup, Jerry Guscott dropped one to win the 1997 British & Irish Lions series in Bok Land and Ronan O’Gara nailed the 2009 Grand Slam for Ireland with one.
Johnny Sexton put Ireland on the way to their most recent Slam with one if Paris earlier this year – that took some balls.
JPR Williams did the trick for the triumphant Lions against the All Blacks in Auckland in 1971 and Joel Stransky won the 1995 World Cup for the Springboks with one as well cueing all sorts of mayhem.
Someone called Jonny Wilkinson also scored a rather famous one in 2003 – with his right foot – after missing a few with his best foot. Which was his left.
All of the mentioned were all match, or tour, defining efforts but as Sir Clive Woodward wrote in his column in the Daily Mail in 2017 it is not always necessarily so.
“A drop goal is not just the rabbit you pull out of your hat to win a match at the death; it is a weapon to be used for the full 80 minutes,” said Woodward.
“It is a priceless and strangely neglected ploy and skill, a way of building a score almost without the opposition noticing.”
Woodward also recounted the time when he asked Wilkinson how many shots at a drop goal he would get in each half playing for that England team. Wilko said he could have as many five chances a half and that adds up to 30 points in a match. And not many teams can recover from that.
Wilkinson also got three of them in the semi-final against France in 2003, in Sydney, when conditions were not exactly made for running rugby so he got the scoreboard moving.
Even forwards like Zinzan Brooke, Martyn Williams and Neil Back have got in the act over the years but the Kiwis missed a trick on Saturday.
You would have thought they would have learned their lesson by now.
In the 2007 World Cup quarter-final, between New Zealand and France in Cardiff, the Kiwis lost 20-18 and with Dan Carter and Nick Evans both of the pitch at the death would have been looking to Luke McAlister to do the honours and nick the match.
But Richie McCaw admitted afterwards that a drop kick ‘was never part of our plan’. Why not?
Wilkinson kicked a world record 36 of the beauties in 97 Test matches and the players trailing in his wake make an instructional list.
Next up, on 28, is the brilliant former Argentina fly-half Hugo Porta followed by Rob Andrew on 23 in 76 Test matches for England and the Lions. Porta played his last Test match in 1990 and Andrew his last in 1997.
Next up is Diego Dominguez, who played for both Argentina and Italy, and banged over 20 and the South African Naas Botha who managed 18 in just 28 Tests for the Boks. Dominguez played his last Test in 2003 and ‘Nasty Booter’ as New Zealanders called him, there is a caricature type statue of him in one of the boxes at Eden Park in Auckland, finished Tests in 1992.
Anyone see a pattern?
Carter scored just eight in 112 Tests but one of them was a memorable effort in the 2015 World Cup semi-final that got New Zealand back to 12-10 down against South Africa when the All Blacks could have lost touch. In case you have forgotten they won that one 20-18 but once Barrett had scored a try, the Kiwis never lost the lead.
It was all started by Carter’s drop goal.
Of current players Nicolas Sanchez, of Argentina, has 12 to his name but George Ford has only two in 47 Tests for England and he has been known to knock them over at club level.
It is time for the drop goal to make a comeback.
Some claim that if you have the pressure going on the opposition up front you will probably eke out a penalty or score a try eventually. Some say there is a danger of a charge down.
But we would rather see drop goals being pinged over than breaks in play for penalties. They are a legitimate scoring ploy so let’s use them.
If they are as ugly as Burns’ one which crept apologetically over the bar on Saturday they are still worth points. Take them.
RugbySpy has been on two tours to Argentina, both with England, in 2013 and 2017, both were brilliant affairs and we have been in love with Los Pumas since that first visit.
We might be falling out of love with them now.
In 2015 we wrote that the Pumas’ fans were the best in that year’s World Cup – and they were. They were bananas and everyone in England felt the love. This week marks a year until the next global gathering and the heat is on.
Los Pumas result in beating Australia 23-19 on Saturday was big time. Mario Ledesma, their new head honcho, has got them up and running thanks to a new enlightened selection policy and England should be running for cover.
After the best part of 180 RugbySpy columns you will also know that your columnist is English – and the Pumas win over Australia on Saturday on the Gold Coast could spell doom for Eddie Jones come Japan next year. They look like they will be a real threat and look a decent bet to get out of a pool containing France, USA, Tonga and errrrr………..England.
The last time Argentina won in Australia was in 1983 when the aforementioned Porta was the starting 10. He got a drop goal in that game too in Brisbane.
But after last weekend’s heroics by Agustin Creevy’s men could really have put the cat among the pigeons, this could be the beloved Group of Death which it is compulsory for all World Cups to have.
All of a sudden our once-beloved Pumas look like a real danger to England.
France have a pile of young kids coming through, the Pumas are on the march and England will do well to get out to the knockout stages in Japan.