Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: Drop the weapon for the World Cup

Dan Carter says he's been working on his drop goals but the team will need to get him in the right position first. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter says he's been working on his drop goals but the team will need to get him in the right position first. Photo / Getty Images

It might not be a relationship that lasts but for the World Cup at least, the All Blacks are going to embrace the drop goal.

For the duration of the tournament, the drop goal will no longer be the unwelcome drunken uncle at the family wedding.

Finally, the All Blacks have accepted that there is no shame in dropping into the pocket and collecting an easy three points.

In all the reviews and furore that followed their quarter-final exit in 2007, the point was never made that the All Blacks of that period gave every impression the drop goal was beneath them.

As they hammered away in those final 12 minutes in Cardiff - 20-18 behind to the French - they played as if they felt only a try would suffice; that there would be no genuine glory to be had in winning with a drop goal.

Only as a last, desperate act did they set up for a shot - Luke McAlister firing a dud from almost 50 metres out.

The reluctance to try field goals is at odds with World Cup history.

The 1995 and 2003 finals were both won with unforgettable drop goals and several other knock-out games - England's quarter-final win in 1995 and Australia's semifinal win in 1999 - were decided by dramatic three-point grabs.

The drop goal is to the World Cup what the mince pie is to Christmas; they are available all year round but they enjoy a surge in popularity in one specific period.

Incredibly, Jonny Wilkinson has kicked 13 dropped goals at World Cups - scoring three in one match against France in 2003 and dropping two in three other separate games. Jannie de Beer kicked five in one game in 1999.

The All Blacks have decided they need to have a piece of that action - that they can't look this particular gift-horse in the mouth any longer.

They have talked about the need to have specific plays to set-up for the drop and the relevant executioners - Dan Carter and Colin Slade - have been spending time at training nailing their technique.

Coach Graham Henry says his team are not about to renege on their core belief that rugby is a game of pass and catch.

Nor does he like the simplistic notion that there is a direct link between kicking the ball more and winning the World Cup.

The perennial question that is fired at him daily from an inquisitive public is whether the All Blacks are going to not only be more willing to drop goals but whether they will also kick more possession as a means of taking less risks and building the pressure by dominating territory.

Rugby, in Henry's view, is all about having multiple weapons and the drop goal is simply another means of scoring points and something his players should be more conscious of.

"It is about the conditions on the night. About how you build the team from where they were in 2010 to 2011 and what changes are going to be positive so that your team is going to play better.

"I don't think people should think game-plan improvement is about kicking the ball. Some of it might be about that but some of it might be about other things.

"The odd dropped goal would be good at the appropriate time. The boys are spending time, as always, doing that.

"I use the parallel: if you go to watch Sacred Heart play Hamilton Boys' High School in a 1st XV game of rugby, you won't see a dropped goal. If you go and watch Johannesburg Boys' High School play Cape Town Grammar School, you will see 10 dropped goals in the game.

"It is just a different upbringing in the game in South Africa. The drop goal is an integral part of their development but in New Zealand it is not.

"I am not making excuses - that is a fact. If you watch provincial and Super Rugby, you don't see too many New Zealanders dropping goals. So we have got Dan and Colin practising drop goals and we will try and have some plays that will end up with a drop goal opportunity, but it is just not something that is natural."

Henry is hoping that it may become more natural over the course of the Tri Nations.

There is no issue with Carter's ability to strike the ball. The concern is knowing when to set the platform and staying in control of the process.

In the 2003 World Cup final, England provided the perfect blueprint. With the game tied and only a minute on the clock, they had the discipline and composure to hit the ball up three times after a clean lineout take until Wilkinson felt he was close enough.

"It is proven come World Cup time games can be really tight and drop goals are an important part of the game," says Carter. "I have continued to work on the basics of the drop goal this year but the thing is setting up a play for a drop goal. You might be 40 metres out and the whole team has to know there is a play to set up the drop goal, to get into a good position.

"You might know inside your head but no one else in the team does and that is where you come unstuck. We have been doing a little bit of work behind the scenes on those plays.

"That is down to the No 10 to control that - he knows the good spots you need to get to and generally that is front of the posts. We have a couple of plays up our sleeve."

All Black forwards are not conditioned to that kind of structure.

They are more instinctive and it will be hard for them to temper their desire to keep pumping forward in the belief they can score a try or create enough space for the backs to score.

But for the next three months they need to accept they are in a relationship - drop goals are now part of their life.

- Herald on Sunday

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