At the risk of sounding like a grumpy old man, ranting from his armchair, we all have a few things that irk us far more than they should. Not least in sport; usually a source of so much joy, little, often inconsequential, bits of gameplay can inexplicably make the blood boil.
I’m taking this opportunity to air my (minor) grievances with rugby (and note this is definitely not a serious article. Well, almost not), and as we move in 2019, maybe the sport can adopt some new year’s resolutions. Self-improvement and all that.
One of my biggest pet peeves is teams’ tendency to go for the Hail Mary pass or kick to the winger as soon as they receive a penalty advantage in the opposition 22. I counted numerous examples in the games over the festive period and none came off. Yes, on occasion they do (and are undoubtedly spectacular), but as with many things we tend to remember the successful and forget the numerous failed attempts.
It seems to be an ingrained mentality that when the referee calls ‘advantage’, the attacking flyhalf immediately hoists the ball in the air, going for glory rather than trust their systems and press home the current attacking advantage. Often the reason the defending team conceded the penalty is because they have lost their defensive shape and are under pressure. This is moment for an attacking team to retain their composure and keep pressing, not roll the dice because they have a penalty coming anyway.
Of course, often the passage of play still results in a score – whether the team attacks from a restart like a scrum or lineout or takes a penalty kick, but it frustrates me that players quit on the attacking play so soon and often readily settle for three points when a try could be on offer. The penalty option is not going to go away – when was the last time you can recall a referee calling ‘advantage over’ in the 22?
Exeter are one team that resist doing this better than any other in the Premiership. They started the season with a focus on scoring just tries, eschewing kicks at goal, and it is a approach they have maintained – only kicking one penalty in their most recent four Premiership games.
The premature celebration
Another example of impatience in rugby, I have noticed a tendency for teams who are attacking through short pick-and-goes to jump the gun and celebrate scoring too early.
There was a couple of examples in the Bath/Leicester game just before the new year: as soon as the ball gets close to the line and there is a tiny chance a try has been scored, all the players roar with certain approval – even those too far away to have any idea what has actually happened.
The issue is just that as soon as they start celebrating, inevitably the referee blows up and asks the TMO to check if it’s a try.
Sure, a lot of the time players believe they have scored, and even if they don’t I’m not taking umbrage with the gamesmanship of appearing more confident than they are to trick the referee and award a try. But often the ball is clearly still a bit short and if they had just held on for a couple more phases, would likely have scored for real. The early celebration kills their attacking momentum and they have to restart play. A little more patience in attack would also trade a few minutes of dull replays on the screen for a few more phases of rugby. And that can only be a good thing.
Perhaps less a grumble, more a resigned sigh for this one. I would love to see players pushing for distance from penalty kicks to touch. It is something I noticed in England’s autumn internationals, with Owen Farrell often erring on the conservative side with his kicks. It is a situation exacerbated by the trend of the past decade to use the more accurate end-over-end touch-finder, rather than the less secure, but ultimately bigger, spiral kick we all used at school/club rugby. But surely a professional flyhalf can find more than 20 metres with a kick to touch…
So, it was positive to see George Ford really hammering his kicks into the corner at Welford Road on Saturday. Leicester Tigers’ ground is by no means the biggest in the country, but Ford really pushed for the extra few metres each time. And the difference to an attacking side from being able to launch a move from a lineout five, six or seven metres out, compared to ten or 15, is immense. Not least the phycological pressure on the defending team; keeping them honest as they know one slip up will mean a score – a more conservative kick and those extra few yards allow a defensive team that little extra security and leeway to attack the breakdown to try and force a turnover.
It is no exaggeration to say an ambitious howitzer to the corner can be a match winning move – remember this from Henry Slade? Bring back the ambitious kick to touch!
What are the things that irritate you in rugby far more than they should?
By Henry Ker