New Zealand’s relationship to rugby’s drop goal is akin to a gonorrhea sufferer’s view of penicillin: we know it can provide an instant remedy to an unpleasant situation, but we remain entirely irritated by the circumstances that led to its use being required and, as such, resort to its deployment begrudgingly at best.
(Although this column’s wife is not known to be an avid reader, at this point it seems wise to include the disclaimer that we have never had gonorrhea, and are in fact merely projecting, based on an evidence-free view of how we believe a sufferer of said condition may feel.)
Back to the matter in hand, so to speak.
In the closing stages of Saturday night’s epic test defeat by the Springboks in Wellington, Damian McKenzie slithered back into the pocket, positioning himself perfectly to either pop over a simple kick to complete a comeback victory, or whip out a smartphone and start scanning trivago for a sweet deal for his mid-season getaway.
Watching on, the nation knew full well that McKenzie was vastly more likely to catch a decent discount on a flights-and-hotel package to Denarau that he was a pass from replacement halfback TJ Perenara.
Drop goals are just not the All Blacks’ way.
Nor should they be.
This column stands with the All Blacks in their bold preference for a near-fatal bout of jock itch over resorting to such underhand tactics as a drop goal.
Somewhere, deep in the handbook of All Blacks’ unwritten rules, there’s clearly a stipulation that the only acceptable drop goal is when it is kicked by a No. 8 from the halfway line when well in front against England.
The origins of this ancient decree can no doubt be traced to a cultural exchange with Corinthian FC, a turn-of-the-19th-century football club that so strictly adhered to the values of sportsmanship they would remove their goal keeper in the event they conceded a penalty kick.
The Corinthian way deplored the excesses of human nature bred by competing for silver baubles, hence they boycotted the FA Cups of 1903 and 1904, preferring to wallop the winners Blackburn 8-1 (1903) and Derby County 10-3 (1904) in friendly matches after they’d received their ill-gotten bounty.
Now, that’s how it is done.
The link to the All Blacks refusing to kick drop goals likely comes from the Corinthian practice of smashing any penalty kicks they themselves were awarded high over the crossbar – an action both sporting entities appear to believe should be worth zero points.
One of the more baffling things said after Saturday night’s wonderful monument to decency was that the failure to kick a winning drop goal was a symptom of All Blacks captain Kieran Read’s weak leadership.
Poppycock, as Corinthian winger Charles Charlie Charles might well have said.
Read’s decision to win in style or not at all was in fact a demonstration of leadership so iron-fisted that the noted rugger fan Kim Jong-un will be now be racked with self-doubt about his Laissez-faire methods.
As titans-of-men like Read know, it’s easy enough to convince people to follow you in doing the right thing, but only those with exceptional leadership powers will be followed unquestioningly down a path marked: “road to ruin and ignominy – and quite a bit of shit on talkback radio”.
Read’s decisiveness in choosing to do the wrong thing was not only bold and fearless, but also a wonderful nod to his forebears.
Anton Oliver – who refused to kick a penalty to earn a crucial Tri Nations bonus point with time up on the clock and the All Blacks trailing Australia 15-23 at Carisbrook in 2001 – would have had tears of appreciation in his eyes as McKenzie fumbled the final possession while attempting to navigate a blind alley full of Springboks.
Sadly, as despicable as the tactic may be, there is some evidence suggesting the efficacy and simplicity of points-scoring drop kicks.
South Sydney Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds underlined just what an un-difficult skill slotting drop goals from straight in front of the posts is by doing so three times in 10 minutes to win an NRL finals match just a couple of hours after the All Blacks eschewed victory in favour of the moral high ground.
Both of the weekend’s NRL finals matches, as it happened, were settled by field goals. So too was the Week One finals match between Melbourne and Souths. In fact, the winning teams in five of the six NRL finals matches played so far in 2018 have kicked at least one field goal, which does rather suggest a correlation between an ability to slot game-winning drop kicks and winning games.
It’s that correlation that appears to have unsettled All Blacks fans leading into the next Rugby World Cup.
The thinking presumably goes like this: in the event the All Blacks throw a bunch of intercept passes, defend with the intensity of a soggy trifle and field a goal kicker that couldn’t hit a barn door with an elephant, it might be handy to be able to execute a late drop goal.
Given it is hard to argue with that logic, there are two obvious options here. The All Blacks could either work on not throwing multiple intercept passes, tackling harder and improving their goal kicking; or they can enquire as to whether Adam Reynolds has a Kiwi granddad.