Kicking taking over Tri-Nations

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The Independent Online

Kicking is taking over the Tri-Nations - and it's official.

Statistics from the first five matches of this year's tournament compared to its 2008 counterpart reveal an alarming increase in penalty goals kicked.

But the figures also show an equally concerning drop in the number of tries scored. Both sets of figures provide strong evidence to support those who promoted and believed in the new ELVs which were largely killed off by the voting power of the northern hemisphere countries.

Those who advocated sticking with them as a potentially enhanced attacking weapon in the game but feared going back to the old laws such as the maul, appear to have been largely vindicated by these figures. The current statistics should worry purists of the game.

In the first five matches of last season's tournament, a total of 27 penalty goals were kicked. This year, that figure soared to 47, a whopping 57 per cent increase. South Africa accounted for almost half of them, 21 in just three games. Last year, in their first three games, the Springboks kicked just nine penalties.

On the other hand, tries overall are down from 19 at this stage last season to just 11 this time. That represents a 42 per cent decline, which is further evidence that kicking generally is taking over the game. In their three games, the Springboks have scored just four tries.

But it isn't just the South Africans who appear to have either lost interest in scoring tries or lost the ability to create and finish them off. Australia, traditionally a side that always embraced 15 man rugby, managed a paltry three tries in their first three games, compared to seven at this stage last year.

And the Wallabies have caught the goal kicking bug, too. Their first three games last season brought them just three penalty goals; this season, in the same period, they have kicked nine.

After four matches last year, New Zealand had scored nine tries. This year, as they have struggled, they have managed just four in that same period. But the All Blacks repeat the trend in penalty goals – 15 last season after four matches, 17 this time. Not as huge a margin of increase as the kicking obsessed South Africans and, to a slightly lesser extent, Australians, but still an increase.

For anyone who remembers the vivid, captivating sight of teams running the ball and scoring tries or who cares for the true traditions of the game, these figures are worrying. These modern day coaches and players are kicking real rugby to death.

Former England coach Dick Best said "It is probably a symptom of going back to the old game. The ELVs created ball in play longer and a faster game. Clearly, with all these penalties, we have returned to the largely static game of the past. It is a traditional warfare type of game fought on the ground, therefore people will give away an awful lot of penalties. Generally, games are now being won on penalties, not tries, and the

game's administrators need to sit down and take a long hard look at all this."

Best called for the introduction of two referees, to handle the increased demands on match officials. He said "I still think one man cannot manage the breakdown now. Touch judges are helping on the offside law but we need another official to help at the breakdown, the chief area of problems in the game.

"The game is so much quicker now, you need two referees in order to stop the cheating that is going on. So many penalties are being kicked because players are killing or fatally delaying the release of the ball at the breakdown. Personally, I think we need to adopt one of the rules of basketball whereby, if a person is frequently breaking the laws, he is sent off.

"One thing is for sure. We need to make some radical, pro-active moves in the sport otherwise rugby is just going to come down to a kicking contest. It is starting to look that way already."