Kicking kings ready to drop by
In Australia, it’s a term of abuse but in Paris on Saturday night, it’s poised to be the weapon of choice as England and South Africa eye the World Cup title.
Never has the much-maligned drop goal been so important and in Jonny Wilkinson, England can boast the king of the kickers.
The flyhalf’s extra-time drop won the 2003 World Cup against Australia.
On Saturday, he popped up with another incisive strike to break French hearts in the semifinal.
The drop goal is the great escape in tight, tense knockout games and has produced moments of wonderful drama in the World Cup’s 20-year history.
One of the strangest came from New Zealand back row forward Zinzan Brooke who scored from 40m in the semifinal win over England in 1995.
“I used to practice all the time in my backyard, you know left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot,” said Brooke, a World Cup winner in 1987.
“The moment I decided to do a drop goal was when it was actually bouncing along the ground and I thought, ‘right, this is going to go through the posts’”.
England had reached the semifinal thanks to a last-gasp drop goal from Rob Andrew to secure a 25-22 victory over Australia.
“It was just meant to go over,” said Andrew.
Four years earlier, England had been beaten in the quarterfinals by South Africa with Jannie de Beer kicking a record five drop goals in a 44-21 victory.
“At the end of the day you think is it three, is it five, how many has he put over? You couldn’t remember, it was the most surreal second half I have ever been involved with,” said England’s Martin Johnson.
In the semifinal that year, Stephen Larkham’s 45m drop goal knocked out the Springboks. It was the first time the Australian playmaker had attempted such a pot at the posts.
South Africa’s Joel Stransky, like Wilkinson, also has the honour of scoring a drop goal in a World Cup final.
In his case, it came in injury time in the 1995 final against the All Blacks in Johannesburg.
“I hit it sweetly, I looked up and saw it was spinning perfectly, the trajectory was good, I knew it could never miss,” said Stransky, who kicked three penalties and two drop goals in South Africa’ 15-12 victory.
Wilkinson’s winner in Sydney is now part of World Cup folklore coming with 30 seconds left in extra time against the Wallabies with the score at 17-17.
“Had that one missed, then God knows what might have happened,” said a relieved Wilkinson.
Many fans in New Zealand were left wondering why their beloved All Blacks didn’t try a drop kick to win their quarterfinal against France in Cardiff 10 days ago.
“Sometimes when you drop back, the pressure really comes on. The way this team has been it’s always backed itself to use the ball effectively,” said All Blacks captain Richie McCaw.
“In saying that you realise you’ve got to take every opportunity you get and sometimes a dropped goal is the only way.
From where I was it didn’t feel like we’d got in the right position to comfortably set up for that and the French were aware of that.”
Many in New Zealand and Australia have been suspicious of the drop goal and have often called for its three-point value to be cut.
Not surprisingly, in those countries the word “dropkick” is slang for moron or imbecile.
The drop is used in rugby league as well as in the National Football League in the United States, although it’s an option rarely taken.
The only successful attempt in the last 60 years was by Doug Flutie, the backup quarterback of the New England Patriots, against the Miami Dolphins in 2006 for an extra point.
Flutie was 42 at the time and playing in his final NFL game. - Sapa-AFP