A drop kick is the result of enterprise and real skill and should count for more than a penalty

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The Independent Online
Rugby is now like a merry-go-round whose speed is controlled by someone who does not quite understand the mechanism but is doing his best to keep the contraption under some kind of control. In the last year the pace has accelerated alarmingly. Some of the passengers find this exhilarating, others are fearful, others are hanging on for dear life, while others again will lose their hold and be flung into the watching crowd, as a few already have been.

Who would have thought that Jonathan Davies would come back to union, even if his return - not entirely through his own fault - has been something of a let-down? Who would have predicted that Wigan would be playing Bath twice in May 1996, once under union rules, once under league?

Though Jeremy Guscott is entitled to do exactly as he pleases, I am sorry he has decided not to participate in these encounters. He is wrong, I think, in regarding them as a piece of showbusiness. They may force rugby to change even more rapidly than it is changing already.

I would expect Wigan to win the league match easily and Bath to win the union match narrowly. Whatever happens, questions are going to be asked about various aspects of the union game.

The first is the line-out. Do we need a line-out at all? If we do, is there not a case for legalising lifting, which happens anyway? Wigan may indeed conquer the line-out - they may try to ignore it altogether by throwing over it to the back. They may have short lines on their own throw. We shall all learn something.

We shall learn something, too, about ruck and maul. It may be that Wigan will show defending sides how to cope with the driving or walling maul, which I have long maintained is illegal. It seems that some people are now coming around to my point of view.

League-school values are also different. I should like to see the drop- goal rewarded in relation to the penalty. In 1954, when Denzil Thomas of Neath won the match against Ireland with a drop and was never picked for Wales again, a successful kick was worth the same as a try, three points. Shortly before that, it had been worth four.

I would not want to go back to that ratio which, under current values, would make a drop worth seven points. I would not even wish to make it count for as much as a try. But there is a convenient number between three and five, which is four. A drop kick is the result of enterprise and real skill, and should count for more than a penalty.

But there is a wider question. Why should place kicks exist at all? There may be a case for penalising foul or unfair play, such as deliberately killing the ball, with a free pot at goal. There is another school of thought which maintains that guaranteed possession, followed by a kick, whether tapped or to touch, is adequate recompense for the wronged side.

Now that possession is maintained at the line-out, many teams prefer to go for touch rather than for goal. Similarly, they may opt for a scrum when the offence occurs close to their opponents' line (as Harlequins did against Sale on Saturday) and there is a possibility of seven points rather than a probability of three.

And yet, why should the value of a try be increased to seven merely because of a successful kick at goal? Any justification is bound to be historical rather than rational. There is a strong case for abolishing the conversion completely.

This is unlikely to happen during my lifetime. There will almost certainly be a premium on place-kickers - despite the developments I have just mentioned. Therefore, it would be helpful if the papers published lists of players giving percentages of successful kicks at goal besides totals of points. It may be that John Liley of Leicester would still come out top of the first division if the former criterion were adopted in addition to the latter. It would be nice to know, all the same.

I should like to say that I am deeply attached to the scoreboard at the Richmond Athletic Ground. At the top it announces itself, in capitals, as SCOREBOARD, as if it might be mistaken by a careless observer for an inter-continental ballistic missile instead. Underneath, in much smaller letters, it specifies the teams on display. It testifies to the old amateur spirit of rugby football. It could hardly be a sillier construction. Clearly, under the new regime, it cannot be long for this world.