Dropped goal no longer a shameful scoring option

JOSEPH ROMANOS
Last updated 07:31 19/06/2012

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OPINION: New Zealand rugby fans have always been a bit sniffy about the dropped goal. Maybe not any more.

Dan Carter's match-winning dropkick in the final moments of the test against Ireland in Christchurch may have finally brought home to New Zealanders how much a legitimate part of rugby the dropkick (sometimes known as the pot) is.

Other countries have always known it.

In 1928, South Africa fielded a dropkicking genius, first five- eighth Bennie Osler, against the All Blacks.

Pierre Albaladejo, who toured New Zealand with the 1961 French team, was such an expert at dropped goals that he was tagged "Monsieur Le Drop". He was one of several Frenchmen to earn the sobriquet. Others included Jean-Patrick Lescarboura and Didier Camberabero.

Englishmen Rob Andrew secured his team critical World Cup victories in 1991 and 1995 with timely dropped goals. It was Joel Stransky's extra- time dropped goal that swung the 1995 World Cup final South Africa's way, when All Blacks first-five Andrew Mehrtens could not reciprocate.

In 1999, Wallaby Stephen Larkham landed a 48-metre monster to eliminate South Africa in the semis.

Jonny Wilkinson won the 2003 World Cup for England with a dropped goal in extra time.

Yet New Zealanders still tended to curl up their lip at dropped goals, as if they weren't "real" rugby. Several noted New Zealand rugby journalists, including Spiro Zavos, have decried the use of dropped goals.

It's not as if New Zealand haven't fielded players good enough to drop goals. Way back in 1913, New Zealand fullback and captain Joe O'Leary dropped an important goal from inside his own half in the All Blacks' 25-13 win over Australia at Carisbrook.

Mark Nicholls, Bob Scott, Don Clarke, Mac Herewini, Doug Bruce, Allan Hewson, Grant Fox, Zinzan Brooke (a No 8!) and Mehrtens were all proficient dropped-goal kickers.

It's just that whenever they did it, the reaction was rather underwhelming, as if the All Blacks were scraping the bottom of the barrel in their desperate search for points. Bruce kicked two dropped goals when the All Blacks squeaked past Ireland 10-6 in Dublin in 1978, so it's not as if we've always been too proud to resort to dropped goals if needed.

Yet in 2007, when the All Blacks simply could not break through France's defences during their World Cup quarterfinal in Cardiff, it was clear little thought had been given to the possibility of a dropped goal in a crisis.

In these days of professional rugby, everything is analysed, scrutinised and planned to an almost absurd degree. Yet the large All Blacks management team had not contemplated employing a dropkick if the occasion demanded.

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Judging by Carter's play against Ireland the other day, when he made two dropped-goal attempts in the closing moments, those days are gone. We'll take a win any way we can get it, just like every other team.

The All Blacks may never unearth dropped-goal experts such as Wilkinson and Argentinian Hugo Porta, who kicked 36 and 28 dropped goals respectively during their test careers, but at least the option now seems to be on the table.

A dropped goal is no longer something to be ashamed of.

zJoseph Romanos is a Wellington sports writer and broadcaster.

- Taranaki Daily News

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