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Drop goals provide vital scoring outlet for World Cup hopefuls

Drop goals provide vital scoring outlet for World Cup hopefuls
FILE PHOTO: Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2019 - Pool C - France v Argentina - Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo, Japan - September 21, 2019 France players applaud fans after the match REUTERS/Issei Kato -
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Issei Kato(Reuters)
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By Nick Said

SHIZUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – The drop goal is by far the rarest form of scoring in rugby, but it has a rich history at the World Cup – including deciding two finals – and looks to be making a comeback again in Japan this year as a weapon to unlock tight contests.

Already it has proven decisive in two matches in Japan, as Camille Lopez slotted a late kick to see France beat Argentina 23-21, while Dan Biggar and Rhys Patchell were both successful as Wales defeated Australia 29-25.

Biggar’s effort was the quickest in World Cup history at 36 seconds and set the tone early for the Welsh.

When Stuart Hogg booted a 40-metre effort for Scotland in their 34-0 victory over Samoa on Monday, it was the country’s first in international rugby for over five years. But the tension of World Cups draws team into adding the drop goal to their arsenal.

“It’s an important part of the game,” Wales skills coach Neil Jenkins said on Tuesday. “(Assistant coach) Shaun (Edwards) is always on to me. Every clip he sees of some big World Cup game, there is pretty much a drop goal in it, and obviously it proved vital for us on Sunday.”

Former fly-half Jenkins kicked 10 drop goals in a 91-test career and says perhaps its comparative rarity comes from the difficulty involved.

“It’s a skill in itself. If you can nail those three points and keep ticking the scoreboard over – three, six, nine – it makes a big difference. I’m sure as the tournament progresses we will see a few more.”

Former South Africa fly-half Joel Stransky landed a drop-goal in extra-time of the 1995 final to hand the Springboks the title as they beat the more fancied New Zealand 15-12.

It sent the Rainbow Nation into raucous celebration and by Stransky’s own admission was a kick that changed his life.

Jonny Wilkinson similarly broke Australian hearts as England triumphed 20-17 in the final eight years later, one of a record 36 he kicked in his 96-cap career.

But it is not just in deciders where drop goals have been the decisive moment in a contest.

Stephen Larkham booted a monster 48-metre effort in the 1999 semi-final against the Boks to set Australia up for victory. Incredibly, Larkham only ever kicked two in his 102-test career.

It was a taste of their own medicine for the Boks after fly-half Jannie de Beer had slotted a record five drop goals in a hard-fought quarter-final win against England the week before.

Current Bok coach Rassie Erasmus was on the pitch when Larkham sent his kick sailing through the posts and says it is a weapon his side keep up their sleeve for the pressure moments.

“We have played out a few scenarios (in terms of drop goals). Hopefully this weekend against Italy we can get into a few positions to try it,” Erasmus said, adding that it is an undervalued way of accumulating points.

“When you score a try the whole team goes like that (celebrates), but when you get a drop-goal over everybody just jogs back, even though it is only worth two points less.

“Drop goals are very important, we have seen that from the games that have been played already (this year). In all World Cup games, every single point you can get can be vital.”

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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