Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

All Blacks: Drop goal flops no surprise

Draw in Brisbane underlined New Zealand's inability to kick big drop goals consistently.

Dan Carter missed with his late attempt to win last weekend's test. Photo / NZPA
Dan Carter missed with his late attempt to win last weekend's test. Photo / NZPA

The All Blacks might be masters of the rugby universe in many respects - dominant tight forward play, robust work at the breakdown and expansive back movements - but they've seldom perfected the drop goal.

That aspect of New Zealand's play was highlighted last weekend against Australia. Daniel Carter had one chance to break the 18-18 deadlock in injury time at Brisbane. He was forced to crouch taking a pass from Piri Weepu and drove the subsequent drop goal attempt to the right of the posts. A world record of top tier consecutive test victories went begging.

Carter and Weepu could not re-enact the partnership which staved off a draw against Ireland at Christchurch in June. On that occasion, Carter's left boot coaxed the ball through from a snappier pass at chest height which gave him that little bit of extra time to compose himself.

The drop goal is a powerful weapon but one that New Zealand rugby has largely ignored. Few stand out as significant. Zinzan Brooke's 30m effort to seal a first series win in South Africa in 1996 is the top candidate, though the lack of a credible attempt against France in the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals is equally as memorable.

No New Zealand drop goals have been the single act to win a World Cup, like Jonny Wilkinson's extra time goal off his wrong (right) foot in 2003, or Joel Stransky challenging the height of the goalposts, so sweet was his effort to beat the All Blacks in 1995. Andrew Mehrtens also dropped a goal in that 15-12 extra time loss and Grant Fox potted a goal in the 29-9 win over France in 1987 but the latter is a match remembered more for its three All Black tries.

A list of the most dropped goals by individuals in tests reinforces New Zealand's limitations. Wilkinson leads the way with 36 from 97 tests, while specialists such as Argentina's Hugo Porta (28 from 66 tests), South Africa's Naas Botha (18 from 28) and Jean-Patrick Lescarboura (15 from 28) feature prominently in the top eight. Lescarboura is, however, better known here for the three dropped goals he missed in the 10-9 loss to the All Blacks at Lancaster Park in 1984.

Mehrtens has 10 successful pots in 70 tests (17th equal on the international list), Fox seven in 46, and Carter six in 92. Mac Herewini (1962-67), with five dropped goals in 10 tests, has the best strike rate of any long-term All Black.

Fox, now an All Blacks selector, says the drop goal is one of the hardest parts of the game to master because of its rarity.

"What you're essentially doing is replicating a place kick but hitting a still ball is much easier, like hitting a golf ball off a tee. The secret is in the catch and drop. You're trying to get the ball to bounce at a kicking tee level while getting your balance right from a stationary position. You're also trying to avoid a charge-down, which you don't get in a penalty situation.

"Other players bearing down are always in your peripheral vision; you can't block them out. Dan's [Carter] effort against Ireland was a classic example. It came one ruck off a set piece next to the posts. That was a perfect position."

Fox says anyone faced with kicking a winning drop goal has to "own" the situation: "The player has to say: 'I'm happy to be in this position', even with the chance of not executing. Daniel probably wasn't 100 per cent balanced falling to his right slightly [for a left foot kicker]. Every other aspect, he did well.

"No one was blaming Dan over that missed chance. The fact he was willing to put his hand up speaks volumes. He was gutted because he backed himself and that takes courage because it's easy to hide. From our point of view, we should never have been in that position anyway. We had already seen Australia at the other end of the field with [Mike] Harris and [Kurtley] Beale in the pocket but they didn't look so keen. We had [Aaron] Cruden and DC [Carter] either side of the ruck. It was a question of who wanted it."

Despite being at the forefront of many great All Black winning moments, Fox couldn't recall any of his seven test drop goals being match-winners.

The Herald on Sunday prompted him about his effort as a 20-year-old which enabled Auckland to beat the Lions 13-12 in 1983.

"I think when you're young, you start out with less fear," Fox laughed. "You don't worry about it as much, whereas when you're older, there is almost more pressure because of the expectation to get an outcome."

- Herald on Sunday

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