The three-point kick in rugby is the daftest thing in sport

Jon Richardson Roar Rookie

By Jon Richardson, Jon Richardson is a Roar Rookie


95 Have your say

    Awarding three-point kicks for all penalty offences anywhere on the rugby field is crazy. There is a simple fix.

    It’s official. The David Warner memorial prize for the dumbest thing in world sport has been awarded to the three-point penalty kick in rugby. Running a close second was bowlers in cricket yelling “catch” when the ball is in the air, followed by Brad Shields playing rugby for England.

    The Rugby League World Cup, an early favourite, was ruled ineligible as being a farce rather than sheer stupidity.

    Few things can be more nonsensical, illogical, frustrating, time wasting, opaque, outdated, or damaging to the interests of the game than allowing kicks at goal for three points for penalties awarded anywhere on the field.

    Yet, no one ever seems to talk about it. A mystery.

    The dubious penalties in the third Ireland Test were a great example of why the three-point kick is nonsense. Not because they necessarily robbed Australia; Ireland played a great game.

    Who knows, if they’d kicked for the corner and run a rolling maul or backline play they might have scored a couple of converted tries instead of the four penalties in the first half. We also would have gained 8-10 minutes of extra rugby instead of waiting for Sexton or Foley to line up the kicks.

    Dubious ruck penalties against Sekope Kepu and Tolu Latu and, above all, the offside against Samu Kerevi when the ball ricocheted off Rob Carney underlined why the penalty kick option from anywhere on the field makes no sense.

    Conversely, David Pocock may have been lucky to win a penalty for pilfering in the first half.

    Rugby is a sport that has a lot of technical offences thanks, in particular, to the intricacies of scrums and rucks. Those scrums and rucks are, by their nature, difficult to police – the melee of bodies makes it intrinsically hard for a ref to get it right all of the time.

    Even if you brought the video ref in to reassess penalties (perish the thought!) it would still be a matter of opinion half the time.

    Yet, points are scored from such potentially debatable decisions all the time, often half or more of all points in a game. Exactly two-thirds of the points scored in the Ireland game were penalty goals.

    It’s worth remembering the origins of the penalty kick – rugby’s evolution as a game similar to football/soccer where the main aim was to score a goal.

    Initially, the try was worth zero points, just a chance to try for goal. Then it was one point, later two and then three from the 1890s until 1971. The penalty goal has been worth three since 1891.

    So penalty goals started out as a core part of the game but have hung on, like the appendix, as an outmoded vestige of a more primitive stage of evolution.

    Part of history, but surely not the reason it is “the game played in heaven.”

    The blue collar sport of rugby league has been far better at reforming and revising its rules than rugby union, despite the latter’s authorities and playing ranks being full of brain surgeons, wizards of high finance, legal geniuses and Rhodes scholars.

    The main, perhaps only, arguments you hear in favour of the ubiquitous three-point kick are “reward for pressure or territory” and “vital deterrent”.

    The reward for pressure or territory argument is: get down the other end and put points on the board.

    But it simply doesn’t hold water when the penalty is 30 to 40 metres out, and certainly not when it is 60 metres from goal, as happened in the second minute of the first England-South Africa Test.

    It doesn’t take much merely to get into the opposition half – just hoist a kick downfield, chase and tackle and maybe a couple of breakdowns later a prop will incur the ref’s wrath by getting stuck under the legs of the guy he’s tackled and be penalised for not rolling away.

    What did your team do to truly ‘earn’ those points?

    Bernard Foley Wallabies Australia Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

    Does Rugby have too many penalty goals? (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

    Or, as in the case of the Kerevi offside, the key to Ireland being 35 metres out from goal was just having been scored against and having to kick off!

    In other words, the reward for ‘territory’ is effectively a reward for having given away a penalty yourself! Work that one out.

    Another ridiculous example of bizarre rewards is the penalty from a scrum after the attacking team has knocked on. You stuff up by fumbling the ball, there’s a scrum to restart, the front rows lock horns and the other team’s prop slips and stumbles.

    Whistle from the ever vigilant referee to penalise ‘collapsing’. How on earth is that a reward for pressure? It’s more like a reward for butter fingered-ness.

    The “vital deterrent” argument is a kind of ‘war on drugs’ zero tolerance policy. If we don’t discourage them from not rolling away, collapsing in the ruck, tackler not releasing where will it all end? They’ll just keep doing it.

    And worse, maybe go onto harder offences – becoming offside addicts or recidivist inserters of hands in the rucks? The horror!

    It’s a bit like hanging people for stealing a loaf of bread, or sending them to Van Diemen’s Land for seven years. Cruel and unusual.

    But players will keep doing certain things because, like Latu at the breakdown, they are convinced they are in the right and they saw Pocock and Peter O’Mahoney do the same thing and no one sent them to Tasmania, did they?

    Or, he’ll do it because he’s made a legitimate effort to roll from the ruck, but couldn’t get disentangled, or doesn’t release because the tackler is actually holding the ball to him unseen by the ref, or collapses in the front row because his opponent has speared in on him, again unseen.

    It’s not that the refs are blind, even if they are encouraged to be officious. It’s actually bloody hard to work out what’s going on half the time, and it’s even harder for the poor spectators.

    Wouldn’t it be better if they could see and understand why points are being scored?

    A further drawback here is that whether a kick goes through for three points is entirely up to the kicker. Nothing to do with team play.

    Another is that all these penalty opportunities are an incentive for negative rather than expansive and attractive play – get in the opposition half, take no risk, try to smother them with defence, and hope the penalty goals come.

    The obvious solution is to only to penalise infringements with a point-scoring opportunity like a goal kick only in the ‘red zone’, like they do in many sports.

    The aim should be to discourage fouls that frustrate attacks on the try line. So, unless the penalty is inside the 22, or is for foul play or a deliberate infringement to stop a line break or similar point scoring opportunity outside the 22, no kick at goal is needed.

    Just the usual chance to kick for touch with a lineout throw (or maybe an option of a scrum or tap ball 10-15 metres in advance of the penalty spot). Make teams really earn their points.

    In these days of the rolling maul, a kick to the corner is more than sufficient deterrent against infringements outside the 22. As for exceptions, aren’t referees already making judgements every game about which are deliberate, foul, dangerous or repetitive offences in deciding on yellow cards or deliberate knock-ons?

    Perhaps some people actually like the suspense aspect of whether a long-range penalty kick goes over. Well, as noted above, the penalty goal remains on the cards in some situations. Those people will still have conversions to salivate over.

    I know, it’s completely illogical to award 7 points for a runaway intercept try under the posts and only a likely 5 points for a brilliant team effort scored in the corner one, but the forwards have to rest sometime!

    So how about it? Time to move rugby into the 21st century and minimise three-point kicks? We could even say reduce their value to two points but we don’t want to scare the horses too much.

    For Australian rugby, in mortal combat with other winter codes over audiences and players, this should be a no-brainer.

    Encourage more continuity and attractive play. Put the onus on rugby and teamwork, not kicking. Less frustrating, opaque, illegitimate point scoring.

    What’s not to like?

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    The Crowd Says (95)

    • Roar Guru

      July 4th 2018 @ 4:57am
      Corne Van Vuuren said | July 4th 2018 @ 4:57am | ! Report

      Your problem is not the three point penalty kick.

      And no it doesn’t win the David Warner Award for dumbest thing in world sport.

      The three point penalty kick is there to deter incessant infringment by teams to stop opponents to create try scoring opportunities to finish.

      It is the interpretations of laws that is causing the problems.

      Get World rugby to sort that out, the point scoring system is fine.

      If there is one are where I would remove penalties it would be scrums, referees just have no clue what goes on there, it is a 50/50 guess most of the time, and giving away three points on a guess is ludicrous

      • July 4th 2018 @ 7:48am
        Jon Richardson said | July 4th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

        Well Corne, the article does not suggest removing the penalty option inside the 22. And it also suggests refs could have the option to give a 3 point kick if the offence is deliberately aimed at foiling a possible break, or in the event of repeated penalties: these are the judgements the ref already makes in relation to yellow cards for repeated or professional fouls, and in the case of deliberate knockdowns deemed likely to stop a line break or scoring opportunity. But glad you like the idea for dropping goal kicks for scrum penalties.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2018 @ 10:08am
          PeterK said | July 4th 2018 @ 10:08am | ! Report

          exactly, good article, with good suggestions and the right balance of when penalty kicks for goal would be allowed.

        • Roar Guru

          July 5th 2018 @ 4:40pm
          Cadfael said | July 5th 2018 @ 4:40pm | ! Report

          I’m happy with the three point penalty regardless of where the klick is taken (I’ve seen some whoppers from well outside the half). They have increased the value of a try (remember when the try was the same value as a penalty goal, drop goal and a goal from a mark?) to counter the value of penalties.

          • July 6th 2018 @ 4:28pm
            double agent said | July 6th 2018 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

            It’s hard not to be impressed by someone that can kick a goal from inside his own half. However I always wonder how a team in it’s own half can deserve three points.

      • July 4th 2018 @ 10:07am
        Andrew Kennett said | July 4th 2018 @ 10:07am | ! Report

        I think the side with the tight head in the scrum shouldn’t be able to take a shot a goal for a scrum penalty — of course then can take another scrum this time as loose head and then ‘earn’ a penalty shot but this would require 2 big scrums and no chance of knocking the ball on-have a scrum- win a penalty- score 3 as happens now.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 4:35pm
          double agent said | July 6th 2018 @ 4:35pm | ! Report

          I can’t stand the milking penalties by holding the ball in the back of the scrum. You can’t milk penalties anywhere else why is it allowed for scrums?

      • July 4th 2018 @ 10:20am
        DLKN said | July 4th 2018 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        “If there is one area where I would remove penalties it would be scrums, referees just have no clue what goes on there, it is a 50/50 guess most of the time, and giving away three points on a guess is ludicrous”

        I wish people, including some high-profile commentators, would stop perpetuating this utter myth that refs don’t know what goes on in scrums. It may have been true way in the past, but it’s a fallacy these days.

        This myth might even still be true to some extent in club-land, but elite, professional referees spend many hours dissecting the tactics and techniques used in scrums, and in particular in the front row. They are generally very well acquainted with who’s doing what, as well as the “why” and “how” of those actions.

        Yes, there are some refs out there who seem to carry and often invoke pre-conceptions about certain international scrums, and even some refs who “appear” to favour one scrum over the other after just a single set piece.

        But let’s not pretend that all, or even some, of our test-level refs are clueless at scrum time. They know a hell of a lot more about what’s happening than most of us – I’ve seen several different sets of referees’ pre-game notes, and they are full of tips and observations about things to watch for regarding both scrums, and lots of other interesting stuff besides.

        Out-dated myths like this one should be consigned to history.

        • Roar Guru

          July 4th 2018 @ 1:38pm
          Corne Van Vuuren said | July 4th 2018 @ 1:38pm | ! Report

          I don’t perpertuate myths, I am a prop, and are often astounded by the decisions made by referees and the outcome of matches due to scrum penalties.

          • July 5th 2018 @ 10:46am
            Objective said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:46am | ! Report

            You’re a prop, so what? Plenty of times 2 props view a scrum and have 2 differing opinions
            DLKN is right.
            You’re desperately trying to perpetuate the myth that only front rowers can possibly know what’s going on in a scrum.
            Furthermore, ex-props don’t have the physical skills to be able to referee a 1st class game for 80 mins.
            So here’s a tip – get used to it.

            • Roar Rookie

              July 5th 2018 @ 10:55am
              piru said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:55am | ! Report

              “What right do I have to tell an international front rower how to his job?”
              – Stuart Dickinson

              “If you’ve never played front row, you really don’t know what’s going on in there”
              – Bryce Lawrence

              • July 5th 2018 @ 11:02am
                Objective said | July 5th 2018 @ 11:02am | ! Report

                I mightn’t be a pianist, but I can hear a wrong note.

              • Roar Rookie

                July 5th 2018 @ 11:12am
                piru said | July 5th 2018 @ 11:12am | ! Report

                I mightn’t be a pianist, but I can hear a wrong not

                Yep, but can you identify which note it was and explain to the musician what he should have done instead?

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2018 @ 4:03pm
              Corne Van Vuuren said | July 5th 2018 @ 4:03pm | ! Report

              There are two reasons why referees guess at scrum time, firstly they can’t see both sides of a scrum, and don’t tell me an assistant referee from 30 meters away can see why a scrum collapses.

              Secondly they misread the dark arts of scrumming, seeing a scrum go down and knowing why a scrum goes down are two different things.

              • July 9th 2018 @ 3:37pm
                Objective said | July 9th 2018 @ 3:37pm | ! Report

                So you’re saying they get it wrong pretty much all the time ? Deluded.
                And if you are saying that, what’s your solution, Einstein ?

            • Roar Guru

              July 5th 2018 @ 6:29pm
              Cadfael said | July 5th 2018 @ 6:29pm | ! Report

              Only a few years back we had a prop who after retiring got his ref’s ticket and has done internationals.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 1:20pm
          MitchO said | July 6th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report

          International Refs do give too many scrum penalties and it looks me like they are either wrong a lot of the time or seeing something the fans aren’t.

          My impression is that most of the time the refs penalise the weaker scrum as a matter of course. This only encourages the dominant scrum to play silly buggers. If refs gave a lot less scrum penalties there’d be a lot less stuffing about and resets because the dominant scrum would just push the weaker one back and get on with the game.

          I was a (low grade) prop for enough years to be experienced. Over all those years:
          (a) There wasn’t a lot of deliberate collapsing going on.
          (b) When two scrums were evenly matched there were very few silly buggers, collapses and/or resets.

          Most of the time it is the stronger scrum causing the trouble because if the weaker scrum could do something about it then they usually would. Not always but usually.

          Dunno about the boys these days but my primary job was looking after my hooker. Scrum collapses are very dangerous for hookers.

          So the simple way towards a fix is the Ref recognising which is the dominant scrum and taking it from there.

      • July 5th 2018 @ 3:39pm
        In Brief said | July 5th 2018 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

        I find your view very naive.. Many penalties do not come from intentional infringements. Many are incidental and often wrong -it is a split second judgement call by the referee. Furthermore to use the Pocock example you can actually ‘win’ a penalty for getting hands on the ball – although called a penalty for holding on in reality you get penalised even if you have released the ball. Truly bizarre.

        This issue was actually sorted out by the ELVs in 2007 which only penalised off side and foul play. Worked a treat too!

    • July 4th 2018 @ 5:14am
      Ed said | July 4th 2018 @ 5:14am | ! Report

      “For Australian rugby, in mortal combat with other winter codes over audiences and players, this should be a no-brainer.

      Encourage more continuity and attractive play. Put the onus on rugby and teamwork, not kicking. Less frustrating, opaque, illegitimate point scoring.”

      It is not World Rugby’s job to make the game more attractive so the code can compete here in Australia. The administrators of the game here should always work on making our teams the best they can be so to gain as many spectators in the stadiums and in front of the box. We have dragged the chain in many areas following our hosting of the world cup in 2003.

      The Wallabies were the more indisciplined side in the Irish series and we were rightly punished on the scoreboard.

      • July 4th 2018 @ 6:29am
        Ruckin' Oaf said | July 4th 2018 @ 6:29am | ! Report

        Ever notice in a tight match where there’s say 5 minutes to go and one team is up by 2 points that penalties all of a sudden become a rarity. A team can defend dozens of phases of play like angels.

        A reduction in penalties may lead to an increase in disruptive play, slowing the ball in the ruck, offside players slow to get back etc. Which would be the opposite of continuity and disruptive play.

        Make penalties 10 points and then see how few are given.

        • July 4th 2018 @ 10:10am
          Tom English said | July 4th 2018 @ 10:10am | ! Report

          Your first sentence came right out of the mouth of our Rugby League friends.

          • July 5th 2018 @ 10:37am
            JohnB said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:37am | ! Report

            League followers spend a lot of time bemoaning the number of penalties that get given away by the team defending its line and wondering what can be done about it. Higher value for penalty kicks is a logical approach to stopping that (and arguably less damaging to the balance of a game than carding offenders).

        • July 6th 2018 @ 7:11am
          Rob said | July 6th 2018 @ 7:11am | ! Report

          There are few penalties because everyone is on edge: who wants a game determined by penalties? The ref especially doesn’t want that on him.

          Ever notice in State of Origin how the total penalty count is less than 10? The refs are told to not to ruin it.

          3 point penalties are a structural problem. I agree with all the points of this well-written article, however I have to say I think the solution is simply to reduce the points for penalties to 2. Having a “red-zone” just further complicates our game. 2 point penalties means teams will just go for tries more (whether through superiority in the forwards or backs). Persistent off-side and foul play near the try line are already covered by yellow cards.

      • Roar Rookie

        July 4th 2018 @ 6:07pm
        piru said | July 4th 2018 @ 6:07pm | ! Report

        “For Australian rugby, in mortal combat with other winter codes over audiences and players, this should be a no-brainer.

        Encourage more continuity and attractive play. Put the onus on rugby and teamwork, not kicking. Less frustrating, opaque, illegitimate point scoring.”

        Nope, not at all – Rugby needs to stress it’s points of difference, not try to be a bit more like league in the hope league fans will abandon actual league for a game like league but not really.

        That means promoting:
        * scrums
        * tactical kicking
        * the breakdown

        • July 4th 2018 @ 7:36pm
          Jon Richardson said | July 4th 2018 @ 7:36pm | ! Report

          How would the proposal get rid of those points of difference? The idea is to have more rugby and less goal kicking, not more rugby league. Your answer only makes sense if you think more goal kicking (and more games decided as the result of dubious penalty decisions) is a point of difference that is valuable and attractive. If many rugby people think like that there is no hope. And of course the article says to retain goal kicks for penalties in the red zone, I.e inside the 22.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 5th 2018 @ 10:50am
            piru said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

            My point is Jon that you (seemingly) equate continuity and attractive play with running the ball, but the game is so much more than that.

            If you meant otherwise I apologise, perhaps I’ve read a bit too much into what you were getting at

        • July 4th 2018 @ 8:17pm
          Jon Richardson said | July 4th 2018 @ 8:17pm | ! Report

          Actually Piru, thinking about it, what we’ll get, apart from more rugby, is more lineouts and mauls. Which are quintessentially rugby. Much more than place kicks, which were even a big deal in Aussie Rules back in the day. I have a sneaking suspicion you are or were a prop and don’t like the idea of more glory going to the locks and back 3, and fear losing the capacity to earn a 3 point kick from 50 metres out for winning a scrum (I.e. forcing the opponent to collapse). Keep the locks in their place – no points just for winning a lineout.

          • July 5th 2018 @ 10:36am
            ethan said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:36am | ! Report

            Great points Jon.

          • Roar Rookie

            July 5th 2018 @ 10:52am
            piru said | July 5th 2018 @ 10:52am | ! Report

            I have a sneaking suspicion you are or were a prop and don’t like the idea of more glory going to the locks and back 3, and fear losing the capacity to earn a 3 point kick from 50 metres out for winning a scrum (I.e. forcing the opponent to collapse). Keep the locks in their place – no points just for winning a lineout.

            I was a prop, yes – but I was also a fullback, centre, a far too slow winger on occasion and a number 8.

            I love great passing and running the ball as much as anyone, but what makes it great is that it is part of the greater game, not the be all and end all

        • July 5th 2018 @ 8:39am
          Andrew Kennett said | July 5th 2018 @ 8:39am | ! Report

          piru +1

    • Roar Guru

      July 4th 2018 @ 7:48am
      Harry Jones said | July 4th 2018 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      Actually, counter-intuitively, it’s the opposite. Defensive systems would infringe (i.e. slow the offensive recycle system, illegally or dubiously) EVEN MORE if there were no 3-point penalty to fear. The French appreciation of the risk of giving up a Sexton penalty is what created the chance for Ireland’s thrilling 40+ phase attack (he still had to convert a long droppie in the rain).

      • July 4th 2018 @ 7:51pm
        Pinetree said | July 4th 2018 @ 7:51pm | ! Report

        Harry – You nailed it in three sentences, well put man!

      • July 4th 2018 @ 8:21pm
        Jon Richardson said | July 4th 2018 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

        Don’t let reading the actual article deter you from offering an opinion. It says keep the 3 three point option inside the 22 and for professional and repetitive offences outside the 22. You don’t think the prospect of defending a rolling maul 5 metres out can be a significant deterrent to offending?

        • Roar Guru

          July 6th 2018 @ 5:35am
          Harry Jones said | July 6th 2018 @ 5:35am | ! Report


          There is already too much of a gap between penalty points and a converted try to demotivate players from slowing the ball down at breakdown and ruck. If you expand the 3 vs 7 to 0 vs 7, the entire game gets gummed up. Teams would be even more hesitant to run the ball from kicks fielded in midfield because then the defending team can gamble without getting 3, 6, 9 points behind on the scoreboard.

      • July 5th 2018 @ 3:43pm
        In Brief said | July 5th 2018 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

        World Rugby spent many hundreds of hours trialling the ELVs in 2007 and this didn’t actually occur. So the war on drugs example is very apt. I heard on the radio this week that drugs have been decriminalised in Portugal recently which saw drug use and drug related crime almost disappear. Rugby is all about possession. Penalise foul play by all means but the majority of penalties are against players trying ot compete

    • July 4th 2018 @ 8:10am
      Tuc Du Nard said | July 4th 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

      Why isn’t a penalty try 8 points? Try plus 3 for the penalty aspect…extra punishment on the scoreboard.

      • July 6th 2018 @ 9:52am
        Nobody said | July 6th 2018 @ 9:52am | ! Report

        Another way to implement it would be to make a law for a new type of penalty so that at the referee’s discretion (eg. for cynical penalties, foul play, repeated penalties etc.) a penalty shot could be taken where – successful or not – play resumes at the location the penalty was given with a scrum, with the put in to the side not penalised.

        After giving away a dozen points for repeated violations close to their line, without managing to defuse any pressure, the defending side might get the message!

        This would have the added benefit of reducing the need for yellow cards issued for repeated penalties, as opposed to the current state of affairs where the last offender cops the whole punishment.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 10:26am
          Nobody said | July 6th 2018 @ 10:26am | ! Report

          Actually the reduction in the need for yellow cards may be the best part of this idea. For example, I would much rather see a “penalty and scrum” for a deliberate knock down than a yellow card.

    • July 4th 2018 @ 8:16am
      Tuc Du Nard said | July 4th 2018 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      The idea of the ref determining whether a shot at goal is allowed-another level of complexity, is a good idea but would require more explanation to the newcomer.
      That is rugby’s beauty to me though; it is complex, just like life.

    • July 4th 2018 @ 9:14am
      Dan Frogan said | July 4th 2018 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      the only time you can kick for goal is when you score a try & get a conversion ALL penalties you kick for touch, take the scrum or tap kick – easy solution = more enterprising & innovatory play

      • July 4th 2018 @ 5:48pm
        Ruckin Oaf said | July 4th 2018 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

        So if team A looks set to score then team B can just kill the attacking play pretty much any way they like and they don’t have any negative consequences of that.

        • July 6th 2018 @ 4:37pm
          double agent said | July 6th 2018 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

          Team B is already doing that now.