I hate to bring this up again. Really I do, but anyone who I have spoken to during this past test series has been disappointed. Not with the score line, but with the spectacle. So, here it is: has the game of rugby outgrown the scoring system?
It’s a basic rule these days. Find yourself in the opposition’s half, draw a penalty and there is no hesitation in taking the 3 points. With kickers these days nailing up to 80 percent of their attempts, and with territory at a premium, it’s an attractive option and has been for the past decade. Don’t draw a penalty? There’s always the drop goal.
The question is: How did this come about? Why did the three point option become so attractive? Anyone over the age of 25 remembers the days when running rugby was the standard. So what’s changed?
Defence has improved markedly. The rules have changed. Attacking plays are no longer conducted at a 45 degree angle. It’s simply harder to score tries. Teams have gone one of two ways – work out how to get around the problem of scoring five pointers, or rely on the boot.
Teams like New Zealand don’t need to rely on kicks. With Dan Carter they have that option, but usually they possess the attacking class to run a few across the stripe as well – just ask Ireland. But for those sides without such reliably damaging backlines, the points on offer for field and penalty goals is simply too good to resist.
Saturday was a classic example. Despite a return to Sydney’s rugby home, on a sunny afternoon in front of a packed house, the first half was dour – an all too familiar ‘divisible by 3’ score line the result. As soon as the Welsh crossed in the second half, however, it opened up. Suddenly the home side were down by 4, and a try was needed. Cue the best 15 minutes of test footy from the Wallabies this year. An attacking period that piqued interest and nostalgia.
By and large, the game has changed, and it’s not changing back by itself. It needs some help. Change the rules and the sides will work their way around it, but change the incentives, and the rest will take care of itself.
Increasing the worth of a try has been done before, both in 1971, and again in 1992. The IRB then faced the same issue we have now – they wanted to see more tries. The sceptics will say that increasing a tries worth will see sides deliberately give away penalties to avoid conceding, and that’s a valid point. But then, why not encourage more use of the yellow card?
Rather than increase a tries worth, the award for a penalty kick should be changed to 2 points, and the same for a field goal. South Africa has gone a step further, and – with the support of the IRB – introduced a new scoring system in their Varsity Cup. The competition awarded 2 points for a penalty and 3 points for a conversion, effectively meaning a converted try was worth 4 times as much as a shot at goal.
So, we have a working model and the stats suggest the negative impact is minimal. While penalties were up by 11% on the previous year, tries were up by 25%, and most importantly attempts at penalty goal were down by over 70% – with no increase in yellow cards.
This may well be different if trialled at a more senior level. But, as rugby loses even more ground on the rival codes, anything that could improve the game as a spectacle is worth a shot.