How come so many elite rugby players don't understand that often three points are far more valuable than seven?

It's time we curtailed the fashion of kicking for touch instead of kicking a penalty goal in Super Rugby, making it more of a rarity.

Of course, the tactic has its place. If you are chasing a game and need points, big points, it's the only way to go. If you want to figuratively put your foot on the throat of an opponent, it is also an effective way of quelling resistance.

But please, oh please, let's do away with what has become a modern snorefest; an overplayed tactic. If a side receives a penalty in kicking range, it has become de rigeur to kick it out and attempt a try by rolling maul or bash-and-bash - in spite of low success rates.


Apart from the fact most such attempts trigger extreme boredom, it is becoming ingrained – with an effective alternative strategy consistently passed up.

Last weekend we saw three examples of why it can be foolhardy to do this early in a match. Example No. 1: the Blues. They passed up three penalty chances in their loss to the Highlanders before halftime. Each time they kicked for touch and attempted a seven-pointer.

Each time they were repelled, with Liam Coltman and Elliot Dixon burgling turnovers. Up to that point, the Blues had been dominant. They went to halftime 7-5 down. Had they kicked their goals they would have had (a) some compensation for their dominance and (b) a different springboard for the second half – which the Highlanders then controlled as the Blues' ability to make mistakes went into hyperdrive.

Example 2: the Stormers, who did the same thing against the Brumbies – and lost, turning down several kickable penalties in favour of scrum and lineout attacks that didn't work out. Coach Robbie Fleck felt it necessary to defend the on-field decisions to go for seven-pointers, even though the Stormers dominated all the stats apart from the score.

Ruhan Nel, Dillyn Leyds and Dan Kriel of the Stormers. Photo / Getty
Ruhan Nel, Dillyn Leyds and Dan Kriel of the Stormers. Photo / Getty

Example 3: the Lions. They surprised by beating the Chiefs and by roaring out to a 20-0 lead. Their first six points? Two penalties, gained by giving the Chiefs' scrum a hiding.

All Black prop Angus Ta'avao was having a particularly poor time (he had shifted from tighthead to loosehead, in his defence). The Lions, maybe boosted by the return of influential loose forwards Warren Whiteley and Kwagga Smith (and maybe spurred in adversity by the shock return home of coach Swys de Bruin and assistant coach Joey Mongalo), made the most of it.

It was only after the third penalty, with Ta'avao all at sea, they chose to kick for the corner – and tighthead prop Carlu Sadie scored, a fitting reward for putting Ta'avao through the wringer.

All of a sudden, they were 20-0 up and the Chiefs looked lucky to have the zero. They came back late in the match but the winning of it was in that careful accumulation of points and then using the corner kick to press home an advantage.


How much better is that than poke-and-hope tactics slavishly becoming, as the old song has it, "dedicated followers of fashion"? Even if the penalty kick at goal misses, most sides regain possession from the 22 drop-out or the clearing kick.

Jack Debreczeni of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty
Jack Debreczeni of the Chiefs. Photo / Getty

If you go up a level, to the internationals, you discover that attacking close to the line from a set piece has surprisingly low efficiency rates. At the last World Cup, Opta stats from the 2015 pool stages showed that, in the 32 pool matches in which they took part, Tier 1 rugby nations allowed their opponents to score a try from just 9.8 per cent of lineouts and 12.5 per cent of scrums behind the 22m line, including tries scored up to two minutes after the original set piece.

The stats held firm whether the opponents were another Tier 1 pack or supposedly lesser forwards from a Tier 2 country. In other words, defences are up for it.

Other stats from the same World Cup showed that lineout drives from a penalty kick to the corner yielded tries only about 15-20 per cent of the time, a low return.

This was confirmed by the Crusaders-Lions match on Friday night where seven kickable penalties were directed to the corner for a lineout drive; only one yielded a try – a return a little lower than 15 per cent.

The 2015 World Cup also provided another stark example of what happens when you don't kick your goals; England skipper Chris Robshaw opted for a kick for the corner and a try to beat Wales, instead of going for a draw with an admittedly tight-angled penalty kick. The tactic failed, Wales won – and England were out of the Cup in the pool stages, ending coach Stuart Lancaster's tenure and Robshaw's captaincy.

Owen Farrell is one of the world's premier goalkickers who, the stats showed, would have succeeded with that same kick at least 50 per cent of the time. So…50 per cent vs 15 per cent?

Kick the goals, boys. Kick the goals.