Where Teams Will be Looking for Penalties

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Playing to get penalties in a game might sound very strange but it is actually not so uncommon. 

The two most common areas where teams try to get these penalties are at rucks and scrums. 

Over the years, scrums have lost some of their effectiveness as a first-phase attacking platform. There are still ways to score from it but lineouts have overtaken scrums in a big way in this department. 

Scrums have become a great way to earn penalties and when you get these in the opposition half, you have multiple shots at goal. This is in part why teams work so hard on their scrums and why the glorious big boys, the props, are so sought after in Europe’s top leagues. 

One commentator referred to South Africa’s Frans Malherbe as “the goose that lays scrum penalty golden eggs”. Although this is true of Frans Malherbe, it can also be said of a couple of other top props in international rugby. 

Scrums are hotly contested with 800-900kgs of forwards from both sides fighting it out as a well-coordinated team. This arm wrestle is also a way of asserting dominance and often sets the tone for a lot of the other phases of play on the field. 

Rucks become a little more technical but the easiest way to play toward a penalty at ruck time is patience. Teams often get over-excited and want to score with every phase, while the best teams are great at playing the waiting game. 

They set up a number of rucks in succession with the goal of pulling in defenders and creating space for players outside. 

Being patient at ruck time also has the added benefit of increasing the likelihood of a defender infringing. At every next ruck, the defenders become a little bit more impatient and desperate and this often results in someone falling over the ball, contesting when it is illegal, or going offside. 

If teams are aware of these two ways of earning penalties, they can exploit them to get shots at goal or to earn great relief for their teams. In the heat of the battle, focus and patience are needed and it will likely pay off in more ways than one.

The Importance of Kicking

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At some point in time, you or the people around you must have shouted “stop kicking the ball!”. The simple idea is that if you retain the ball in hand you would score more, right? Well, not exactly. 

The principle that applies to kicking is position, then possession. 

We will look at the different kicking scenarios in a moment, but the principle is simply that if you are in a better position, your overall percentages go up. 

Firstly, with each increased percentage, your likelihood of scoring increases. 

Secondly, as important percentages increase, and if you make a mistake, then your opponents have a far lesser chance to score as they are further away from your goal line. 

However, effective kicking is a lot different from just simply kicking for the sake of kicking!  

The #1 goal is to get to a better position on the field to put you in a scoring position, and, then the #2 goal is to regain possession. 

The Box Kick

The box kick is used in 2 scenarios. The first is to relieve pressure when you are pinned down in your own half, especially close to the line. It is the scrumhalf’s priority to get the ball off the part, taking the pressure off the flyhalf

The second is to regain possession and this is ideally used as an attacking weapon between the two 10m lines. More than often, this is a bit of no-man’s land and the kick is aimed at putting the ball behind the defenders with a wing going 1-on-1 with an opposing wing or fullback contesting for the kick. 

If the attacking team regathers the ball they are either in a position to take a run at the try line or they have a disrupted defensive line. 

The 2nd prize is gained position on the field. 

Kicks Out of Hand (usually from the flyhalf)

An effective kicking flyhalf is a formidable attacking weapon. There are a couple of kicks in their arsenal that can benefit a team. 

Kicks aimed at retaining position include up-and-unders, crossfield kick passes, and the grubber kick. 

All of these can be tremendously effective if your whole backline is switched on and aware of these potentially being played. The simple idea with the up-and-under and the grubber is to get the ball just behind the defensive line with hard-running centers going after the ball and they are usually only up against a fullback. 

An effective kick pass has become a must-have for any flyhalf as it is by far the quickest way of getting a ball crossfield to a winger. Once the defense has been pulled in by the forwards or some hard runs from the centers, the kick pass is on! 

The kicks for position are often misunderstood. The ones directly going into touch as a relieving kick make sense. The 50-22 is also a brilliant kick to execute and I don’t think it is attempted often enough. 

Kicks downfield are often part of a team effort and the kick itself isn’t the intended end goal, it’s what happens after that. 

The kicks downfield are aimed at getting into a position where you can apply pressure to the receiver so that they put the ball out and there is a net gain from the original kick. 

A simple scenario would be a flyhalf, just beyond, their own 22m, kicking the ball downfield with a winger chasing the kick. The opposing fullback fields the kick in their own 22m, and kicks out the ball between their own 22m and the halfway line, resulting in a big gain in terms of territory. 

This then puts pressure on the defending team with attacking options that have a far higher likelihood of resulting in a try or a kickable penalty.

Key Matchup: New Zealand vs Italy

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Who would have thought we would ever refer to a New Zealand vs. Italy game as a key match-up! 

That is just a testament to how rugby has evolved over the past few years, which is brilliant for the global game. 

The Italian team came off a good display against Uruguay with a brilliant 20 minutes at the start of the second half. They will be worried that Uruguay was able to dominate for so much of the game. 

Italy has become a far better team in recent times and has been pushing top teams very close. The last two clashes against New Zealand and France will show how far they have actually come.

New Zealand on the other hand is definitely not the All Blacks team that they used to be. They have been blowing a little hot and cold over the past few months but they are still a formidable force and should not be underestimated. 

They have a lot of pedigree in their team and although there will be some nerves going into this game, they should still prove to be superior in most aspects. 

There might be a small chance of Italy causing a massive upset but that isn’t likely. 

I do anticipate it being close at times throughout the game but there will likely be a tipping point where the dam wall just bursts and New Zealand rack up a couple of wins to take them one step closer to the quarter-finals.

Key Matchup: South Africa vs Tonga

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The match between South Africa and Tonga will be a big one! 

The teams will go into this game knowing the result that Scotland achieved and how that impacts their chances of getting into the quarter-finals. 

Tonga came into the tournament with a lot of high hopes but has sadly not been able to live up to those expectations. 

They have shown the flashes of brilliance that we know they are capable of and their team is exceptionally impressive on paper. 

Suffering from a lack of game time as a team has made it difficult for them to really perform to their abilities. Hopefully, we will see more top international matches from them in the coming years to enable them to grow as a squad and become far more competitive. 

They will definitely be out to prove a point against a South African team that will be fairly nervous going into this clash. 

Although South Africa has looked good in many ways over the past few weeks, they showed some real vulnerabilities against Ireland. This was in the form of both game management and their goal kicking

Game management is something they should take exceptionally seriously for this game. They have the opportunity to build up patiently and make the correct decisions against a team they should beat. They need to build that confidence and need to have that discipline. 

With Handre Pollard likely to feature for the first time at the World Cup, they will also look to get a far better return on their goal-kicking efforts. 

The result is likely going to be a big determining factor on how Pool B ends and will just add to the massive spectacle between Ireland and Scotland in the final pool game in week 5. 

South Africa is likely to pick up a convincing bonus point win before going into a long rest period before the quarter-finals.

Rugby World Cup 2023 Recap – Weekend 3

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Week 3 delivered some amazing rugby and some heartbreak results. Thankfully this has created a range of nuances that are now unfolding and many new permutations and possibilities are coming into play. 

The France vs. Namibia and England vs. Chile games went the way they were likely going to go. The biggest upset from these games was the injury to Dupont resulting in a panicked rush to get him to recover sufficiently to play in the quarter-finals. 

Those two games were a festival of tries and secured France and England’s places in the quarter-finals respectively. England have been battling form for a while but have taken a positive step in each of their World Cup games so far. Not sure if they will be able to reach that peak needed to progress right until the end though. 

Let’s look at the other games…

Italy vs. Uruguay was another clash where Uruguay showed their love and passion for the game. They were in it and leading against Italy for the first half and were definitely the dominant team. After halftime, Italy started like a team possessed scoring in quick succession and putting that game to bed. 

The Argentina vs. Samoa game was a very tough clash where mistakes from the Samoan side let them down in a game where they had the opportunity to put Argentina out of quarterfinal contention

The Georgia vs. Portugal game was a replay of their European final game and Portugal came very close to actually getting revenge for their loss to Georgia in March. In the end the 18-18 was probably the appropriate result for these two passionate and exciting teams. More games at this level and against the competition they face will definitely benefit them and help them to keep improving.

Then we get to the other big games in this round…

South Africa vs. Ireland was a massive and brutal clash. It looked like test rugby at its best and Ireland came out on top! The South Africans were brutal in contact and dominated many facets of the game. But the Irish team took every chance they had and their superior technical abilities at crucial times resulted in them taking the victory. Despite the constant onslaught, this professional outfit weathered the storm, looked for opportunities, and took them. It was brilliant rugby to watch and congratulations to Ireland! 

Scotland vs. Tonga set the stage for an exciting last two weeks for the whole of Pool B. The Scottish team was ruthless throughout much of the game and Finn Russell was pulling the strings masterfully once again. His finesse combined with the brute force of Duhan van Der Merwe gave Scotland a convincing victory. Tonga has all of the personnel to be a major force in world rugby but their lack of game time as a team and consistent top-level competition showed. 

The Wales vs. Wallabies clash was just a clinical demolition of a struggling Wallabies side. They are in a world of hurt and ex-players like David Campese are calling for a complete overhaul of Wallaby rugby, while some players have asked for fewer teams in Super Rugby. We will do a longer video on that later. Wales are however growing in stature! They were subpar coming into the tournament but played like a team possessed against Fiji and now against Australia

That leads us to all of the interesting scenarios that can play out going forward! 

Italy still has a chance to get into the quarter-finals but they have their two toughest matches in the next two weeks against New Zealand and France. Just picking up bonus point losses will not be enough. They need to cause an upset for the ages by beating one of these two teams! 

Pool B will largely be decided this coming weekend with the South Africa vs. Tonga game. If South Africa beats Tonga, then Scotland’s chances become a mathematical but very tough challenge. Scotland would need to put up a massive score against Romania, which looks likely, but would also need to beat Ireland fairly convincingly, which might be a bit of a stretch. 

In Pool C, Fiji would need to lose against one or both of Georgia and Portugal not to make it through to the quarter-finals and have the Wallabies slipping through. That is not something I would bet on. 

In Pool D, things are VERY exciting with 2 teams on 5 points and 1 on 4 points, all with 2 games in hand. Samoa, Japan, and Argentina will be going all out in their last 2 games to fight for that 2nd place spot to qualify along with England for the quarter-finals. All of these teams have looked both promising and flawed so far, so predictions here will be near impossible. 

The biggest winners on the weekend: 

An honorable mention needs to go to Georgia and Portugal for a spectacular game of rugby! I hope they continue to grow as rugby nations and I hope to see a lot more rugby from both teams on bigger stages globally

England took another step in the right direction with another confidence-boosting win under the belt. They are improving at a steady pace and are now in the quarter-finals! 

Wales were ruthless and absolutely crushed the Wallabies spirits with their 40-6 victory. Wales is definitely on the up and they are also safely into the quarter-finals. 

The biggest winner for the weekend has to be Ireland. They were accurate when they needed to be and were an example of how you can take some of the sting out of the South African physical brutality.

The biggest losers on the weekend: 

Tonga & Samoa, not because they don’t have the heart and don’t have the players but because they don’t have the support they need from World Rugby yet. There was an effort a year out to start helping the smaller nations and that is definitely a step in the right direction but this now needs to continue every year, not just during a World Cup year.

South Africa was brutal but flawed. They conceded penalties too often and didn’t have the patience of Ireland close to the line, resulting in a couple of try-scoring opportunities going begging. The kicking at poles was the biggest problem. It is just not acceptable at this level for a team to be kicking at under 80% success rate. The only 80% hit by the South African kickers on the day was that they missed 80% of their kicks. Let’s see if Pollard helps to remedy this against Tonga. 

The biggest loser, no doubt, was Australia. They were crushed and only a shadow of the Wallaby teams from past years remain. It is a brand new squad and sending players with little to no test rugby experience to a World Cup was always going to be risky, and oh boy, this proved to be true in the most spectacular way. A difficult day and overall World Cup for Australia. Their efforts ended with them not reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in the history of the World Cup.

Key Matchup: Japan vs Samoa

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The first key matchup of week 4 will be between Japan and Samoa. 

Both teams have a solid chance of getting to the quarter-finals and the winner of this game will be in a far stronger position to get there. 

The loser will likely be out of the tournament and only be playing for a mathematical outside chance for a quarter-final spot and their own pride. 

Japan has been a fairy tale story in the last two World Cups. In 2015 they had a historic victory against South Africa, and in 2019 they beat Ireland! Since then they have had numerous ups and downs and inconsistent results. 

They have strong domestic competition and the Japanese professional league is a superb breeding ground for top Japanese players. Without this in place, they wouldn’t have been a contender. 

Samoa on the other hand has a team packed with superstars; unfortunately, they aren’t yet behaving like a cohesive team. Their lack of game time as a team against strong opposition is one of their major drawbacks. They have many players playing in Europe and a few in Super Rugby. 

Yet, in spite of this, they have only played as a team on rare occasions, which has made it difficult for this group of amazing athletes to reach their full potential as a team. 

I hope to be proven wrong but I believe that Japan will probably be victorious and this will indeed set up an interesting week of clashes.