The All Blacks seem to have solved their playmaking identity crisis, but questions still remain about the dropped goal – a crucial art form that has long been ignored in New Zealand rugby.

Barring injuries, all indications point towards the All Blacks starting with the dual playmaker combination of Richie Mo'unga at first-five and Beauden Barrett at fullback against the Springboks on Saturday, which coach Steve Hansen has employed several times over the last few months in preparation for the World Cup.

From the All Blacks' point of view, the general idea of the setup is to combat the Springboks' physicality and rush defence – their anti-All Black strategy – with creativity and tactical kicking through Mo'unga and Barrett.

That "risk", as Hansen described it at first, got off to a shaky start but showed promise in the All Blacks' thrashing of the Wallabies at Eden Park as the two playmakers started to gel and familiarise with their new roles.


While the Mo'unga/Barrett combo, in theory, provides plenty of opportunities to pry open the Springbok defence, it adds more questions to the All Blacks' already complicated relationship with the dropped goal.

After the All Blacks' stunning 36-34 defeat to the Springboks in September last year, the dropped goal was thrust back into the national consciousness after Hansen's men decided against attempting a three-pointer in favour of running over for a try.

The decision to run the ball eventually resulted in Damian McKenzie being dispossessed, handing South Africa an upset victory.

"Should we have drop kicked a goal? Of course we should have," Hansen said after the match. "We had plenty of opportunities and we organised ourselves … It's not something we don't have in our back pocket, because it is.

"That's a [lesson] and a game management thing that this team has to go through and this will be a massive opportunity for this team to grow."

But have the All Blacks really grown since that loss? When it comes to dropped goals, not much has really changed apart from the fact that they are attempting it more.

Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport
Beauden Barrett. Photo / Photosport

Barrett kicked over his first dropped goal of his professional career against England in November last year and added another in their loss to Ireland a week later. But both of those came while the All Blacks were holding a penalty advantage, with nothing close to the pressure that would be felt during the dying stages of a World Cup match.

Barrett has attempted a few more for the All Blacks this year, but they've also come during penalty advantages or low pressure situations. Mo'unga on the other hand, hasn't scored a dropped goal during his entire Crusaders and All Blacks career. There is the other question of who will actually be the one to attempt the kick if a situation presents itself.


Even All Black legend Dan Carter, who hit crucial dropped goals in both the semifinal and final of the last World Cup, recently mentioned Barrett's decision making.

"In tight World Cup matches, your game management needs to be world class and there have been questions over Beauden," Carter told The Times.

Carter was confident Barrett would "learn from his setbacks" but the All Black playmaker hasn't yet had the chance to prove that he has.

The All Blacks' reluctance to trust the three-pointer is, it turns out, a symptom of a larger trend in New Zealand rugby, with Barrett's two dropped goals in November last year being the only two instances the method was successfully used throughout all of first-class rugby in the country in 2018.

"Considering defence is much practised, analysed and coached these days, it is surprising to us that the dropped goal is not an option against these well-set defences, particularly post the set pieces," said an editorial in the 2019 Rugby Almanack, New Zealand rugby's longest book of record.

During their latest clash with the Springboks in July – a tense 16-16 draw in Wellington – the All Blacks might have even attempted a dropped goal during the final stages of the match, where they held a slim seven-point lead.

With less than five minutes to go and just a few metres out from the Springboks' 22, a dropped goal – which would've put the game out of reach – didn't even look to be in the All Blacks' arsenal or thinking. Instead, they ran the ball as usual, eventually handing possession back to the Springboks who would end up scoring a late try to tie the game.

After the Springboks' narrow win last year, coach Rassie Erasmus summed up the All Blacks' blind spot: "I guess it (attempting a dropped goal) was an option to score but that is not the New Zealand way."

At the World Cup, the so-called New Zealand way might not be enough.