Union must give penalties the boot

THE penalty and penalty/shot at goal nexus is retarding rugby.

In the weekend's Brumbies v Bulls Super 15 game, Springboks fly-half Morne Steyn kicked seven penalty goals, in the process underpinning victory for his team.

In the same game, the Bulls scored two tries to the Brumbies' five. Yep, the team that kicked the more goals, and not the team that scored the most tries, won the game. And such an occurrence is happening far too often.

In addition, the IRB's review of the 2011-12 Six Nations revealed a significant decrease in the number of tries scored.

I see massive, long-term negative consequences to rugby as we see more penalty shots at goal and less tries. This, more than any other issue, is retarding the growth of the game and the quality of the sport-entertainment product delivered and promoted to the marketplace. I have two specific aspects with this penalty/shot at goal nexus that I take issue with. Firstly, shots at goal, by their very nature, are excruciatingly boring.

The other issue with a penalty goal worth three points is that it is only two less than scoring a try. As a result, it becomes a legitimate point-scoring option for a team and its captain, increasing its importance and impacting on teams' approach to winning rugby. Combined, they do not translate into a terribly positive marketing message in the mature and most competitive of sport-entertainment markets in the world -Australia.

I have no time for the argument that three points for penalty goals acts as a deterrent to illegal actions by teams. The complexity of the game (and the rule book) makes playing legally bloody difficult to do. Quite simply, the game is littered with the referees' whistle. Three points as a deterrence is not working.

The way I look at it, we need to reduce the number of penalties and the penalty/shot at goal nexus. Surely we want to see teams scoring tries rather than having shots at goal.

So, I've got three options, and none of them require the reduction in the penalty shot from three points. The ruck has increased in importance as the game has evolved. The same IRB review mentioned above found the ruck area is a source of 51% of all penalties. So, firstly, we need to reduce the complexity of the ruck area, focusing on ways to reduce penalties.

Next, I'd be encouraging the ref to use the yellow card far more at ruck time. It's simple: when teams know that doing something illegal consistently or terribly cynically at ruck time, you'll lose a player(s) to the bin, they will be less inclined to give away penalties. I 'd deter them from being negative by hurting them in personnel, rather than offering the opposition a possible point-scoring option.

And if we get to a case where a team loses two players or the game is down to 12 v 12, for example, it'll only open up the game, in the process encouraging positive attack and the scoring of tries.

Next, I'd increase the points for a try to nine. This is three times the value of a penalty goal (which is acceptable) and not too ridiculous a number. Teams will be encouraged to further their positive options with the ball and to score tries to win games, drastically impacting their approach to the rugby product.

Even if you disagree with my ideas, in the mature and most competitive of sport-entertainment markets, our code needs to improve its entertainment value to survive and prosper. Reducing the number of penalties as well as the penalty/shot at goal nexus will go a long way to achieving this.



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