Does rugby’s scoring system need changing?
Is it right to lose a game of rugby if you score more tries than the other team? At times, it doesn’t seem fair that if you cross the line more than your opponent you still lose the game.
This recently happened when the ACT Brumbies lost to the Queensland Reds in round three of the Super Rugby, but did the Reds deserve a victory or were they granted a win due to the structure of points awarded on the field?
Rugby pundits, armchair referees, commentators as well as the IRB officials have debated the points allocation system for many years, and it has been changed numerous times since rugby was first played on the distant fields of the past.
Not too long ago, a try was only worth four points, but since then it has been given a value of five points. As all rugby union fans know, the scoring system is as follows: a try is awarded five points; a conversion from a try is awarded two points, therefore the total amount of a converted try is seven points.
A penalty and drop goal each are awarded three points.
These are the four ways to accumulate points for the team, but this is just basic mathematics. The argument then lies in the fairness and sometimes relative easiness of a penalty versus the difficulty and hard work to be given a try.
If a team scores two penalties or drop goals, then they are awarded more points than a single try, therefore it’s easier to win by only kicking penalties or drop goals. It would seem that way, wouldn’t it, but there is a lot more to the argument than simple maths.
Penalties are awarded because of indiscipline, for the most part. Yes, some penalties are head scratching and only the referee knows what they were thinking, but generally a penalty is the likely outcome of an infringement.
The team that loses concentration and infringes are penalised, giving the other team a chance to move down the field or have a crack at scoring points.
To score points from a penalty, you cannot simply just toe the ball over the crossbar and have a guaranteed three points, you have to have the skill to strike the ball well enough so that it travels between the uprights.
Kicking is not as easy as it would seem. I’m sure a few fans out there reckon that kicking a ball off a tee isn’t that difficult, and it isn’t if you are dead in front of the crossbar standing 10m or so out, then most of us are able to get it over.
In a professional game of rugby, those positions are not that common and the penalty mark is sometimes at an angle and more than 10m out. This is where skill and composure come into play. Most teams have a specialised kicker, if not two for different circumstances and environments.
The best kickers are men that are normally rock solid under pressure and are willing to place the ball at sometimes unrealistic angles and distances.
Dan Carter has shown his kicking skills throughout the years and is able to play with the elements to achieve a good kicking record. Morne Steyn is as accurate as you can get with the boot. Francois Steyn is known for his monster boot and distance. Kurtley Beale has sunk teams in the last seconds of a match with his composure and accuracy.
The old boys of the past are legends due to the skills acquired as a kicker and the telling tales of matching winning boots, as in Naas Botha, Joel Stransky, Stephen Larkham, Grant Fox, John Eales and Andrew Mehrtens, just to mention a few.
These men were not only rugby players, they had a skill that generally no one else in the team has, and that is the ability to kick, either off a tee or in open play. (I did only mention the Southerners as I’m not too familiar with the Northerners and mean no disrespect.)
For a team and the man, to develop these skills, they put in the extra hours on the training field. Stories of kickers staying on the field long after the rest of the team has hit the pub, have circulated through rugby folklore and some of the stories are true. The amount of dedication and work to become a world class kicker is immeasurable and teams are fortunate to have such players in their ranks.
This hard work is translated into strategy and points come game day and they are normally the players that are called up to tick over the score board.
The kickers have a chance to kick due to a penalty awarded and sometimes the penalty is near the halfway mark, which is around 50m. If you are able to kick a ball, any ball, 50m with great accuracy, then three points should be just reward.
If the opposing team is continually infringing, then they allow themselves to be put into a position to give up three points. To avoid penalties, a team needs to maintain discipline and concentration, not allowing the other team to have a shot.
People may argue that the focus should be on try scoring allowing a more entertaining game, but if a team continually disrupts play without being penalised, then the entertainment factor is jeopardised.
Once a team realises that they are giving away too many penalties as well as ‘free’ points, they begin to play within the rules and allow the game to flow.
Even though a try is only worth five points, which can be scored by anyone on the field, the extra points, which sometimes can win or lose a game, comes from a specialised player. The dedication and training that is emphasized by these players should be rewarded as a team spends time and resources to have these men kicking right.
It may be true that two penalties or drop goals are more valuable than a try, but isn’t that fair? Shouldn’t training and dedication be rewarded in the game of rugby? A kicker will spend hours on the training pitch getting his accuracy right, the tight five will spend a comparable amount of time in the gym getting their strength up, a winger will train on softer surfaces with a weight attached to improve speed.
Each position on the field is required to do a job and some of these jobs are to score points, others to power up field. Shouldn’t the player that hones their skill to score points be awarded a chance on game day?
If a team loses discipline, they should be justly penalised and allow a skillful and dedicated player to put up three points.
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