During this World Cup it has been evident that some teams have little intention of working to construct tries, preferring to simply work their way to within kicking range and then go for field goals.
Most competent kickers who get a good pass and a bit of time can comfortably slot a drop goal from 40 metres, so this is a trend that doesn’t look like heading downward any time soon, particularly when it is an easy way to keep in touch with sides whose defences are improving all the time.
Of course every side has benefited from the drop goal at various times – England in the ’03 final of course, and certainly the Wallabies against South Africa in the 1999 semis – so no-one in their right mind would argue that it should be abolished. In the right circumstances (’03 final) it can be a legitimate, dramatic and effective way to break a deadlock and win a tight game.
When it becomes a way of keeping the scoreboard ticking over in general play though, it certainly takes a bit of sting out of the game for spectators.
An effective way to ensure the viable future for the drop goal as a deadlock breaker, whilst maintaining the focus on running rugby and tryscoring would be to limit the number of drop goals allowed per game.
There are two choices. Either limit the number of attempts, or limit the number of successful goals. Limiting successful goals probably wouldn’t be quite as effective since teams could just keep trying till they kicked their quota. On the other hand, limiting field goals to say, 3 attempts, would have a twofold effect. One, it would force teams to be more strategic with the attempts they made, particularly in tight games where they may need to keep one in reserve as a tiebreaker. Second, it would take away the “points guarantee” which would be inherent in a limit on successful attempts. Teams might attempt three and only kick one for 3 points or they might kick them all for 9 points. The beauty of this is that the responsibility would be on teams to take their attempts at the best possible time to ensure the score rather than just “having a crack” at field goal when there was nothing else on, particularly post-advantage when they know that there’s a penalty coming.
The hoped for outcome would be a greater focus on running rugby and tryscoring, whilst ensuring the survival of the drop goal as a valid and important part of the games history and identity. I see it as being similar to cricket limiting the number of bouncers per over – also a valid tactic when used sparingly, but negative when it is used too often.