Published on News24: 12 October 2017
This weekend’s titanic clash between the Springboks and All Blacks resembled all-out war. Had there been no referee on the field, we would surely have witnessed a bloody spectacle last seen in the days of Rome’s Colosseum!
And this got me thinking … why don’t we adopt proven warfare strategy into South African rugby?
As a contrarian thinker, it’s my job to think outside the box of popular opinion to identify opportunity, and looking at the game of rugby union, there’s an indefensible weakness that is grossly underexploited … the lowly drop kick.
This single tactic, carried out seamlessly as a sole strategy, would render any opposition’s game plan embarrassingly obsolete. And, as a cricket bowler watches his ball being smashed for a six, the rugby opposition would time and time again, watch the ball sailing over their heads, utterly helpless.
In war, one must exploit your enemy’s indefensible vulnerabilities
I often think back to the 1999 Rugby World Cup when Jannie de Beer scored five drop goals against England in the quarter-finals (see the extraordinary video).
These 15 points were fundamental to the comprehensive thrashing that South Africa gave England that day. Yes, the same strategy failed six days later against Australia in the semi-finals, but this single failure should not preclude this ‘rapid-fire drop-kick strategy’ from further exploration.
I often hear people say, “but a drop-kick is very difficult”. In my opinion, so is getting a golf ball onto the green in regulation, but professional golfers do it on average 17 out of 18 times a round. Why? Because golfers focus on one thing 100% of the time they train … hitting a golf ball.
Poor old Jannie de Beer was expected not only to score the odd drop goal, but also to pass, tackle, run, jump, kick up-and-unders, kick into touch, help score tries, as well as a host of other ‘relatively insignificant’ tasks! He probably didn’t spend more than 10% of his total training time practising drop kicks.
Imagine if Jannie had spent 100% of his time practising drop kicks … like golfers practice striking a golf ball! For me it’s very simple, a drop kick in professional rugby is ‘difficult’ because it’s not practised enough.
And, to show just how far ‘more-than-average’ practice can get you, one need look no further than England’s Johnny Wilkinson, whose drop-goal technique is unmatched (see another incredible video).
Rapid-fire drop-kick strategy
To take it one step further, imagine if the entire 15-man team was configured and trained around this ‘rapid-fire drop-kick strategy’. For instance, transform the scrum half, centres and wings into flanker-like wrecking balls – huge, heavy, fast and preferably ugly – who’s job description entails battering the opposition’s defences.
Basically, 14 brutal forwards and one specialist drop-kicker. The sole job of the 14 forwards is to secure the ball, retain possession, and move the ball into the ‘drop-kick’ zone. Once there, execute a comprehensively trained drop-kick set piece with your dedicated kicker.
The kicker won’t miss because he’s perfected the art of catching the ball and drop-kicking it through the posts, with time to spare.
The absolute beauty of this strategy, which exploits a leverageable shortcoming in the rules, is that each time you score, the opposition is sent back to the half-way line to immediately kick the ball away into your possession.
Once in hand, your 14 forwards use their brute force and wrecking ball-style tactics to work the ball back into the drop kick zone to score another drop goal.
Drop kicks are ‘not in the spirit of rugby’
Rugby die-hards might view this drop kick strategy as ‘treasonous’ in the beautiful game of running rugby, but I ask them this, “would you prefer to give the All Blacks a hiding, or watch South Africa lose while attempting to play ‘beautiful’ rugby?”
The bravado associated with 5/7-point tries is wonderfully overstated in the face of 3-point drop goals – it’s like a wrestler taking on a sniper. If South Africa adopts the drop goal as its core offensive strategy, they would be bringing an automatic rifle to a wrestling match. Yes, it’s a little unfair and it’s a little soft, but it’s 100% within the rules.
And let’s be honest, it’s not about how you fight, it’s whether you win … and the boos of New Zealand supporters wouldn’t register against the roaring thunder of victorious South Africans.
Why hesitate, let’s dominate
From a contrarian’s perspective, it’s a no-brainer. South African Rugby’s bold adoption of this rapid-fire drop-kick strategy would give the Springboks a legendary opportunity to rout all international opposition and reign supreme for as long as foreign nations continue to wrestle in gun-fight rugby matches … or, of course, until the rules are changed.
One thing is certain though, this strategy and its window-period of execution would be written into the history books of rugby union.
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