World Rugby have been trailing an alternative scoring system.
Since the establishment of the International Rugby Football Board in 1885, formerly the IRB and now World Rugby, the number of points awarded for a try, penalty, drop goal and conversion has changed on numerous occasions.
Prior to the founding of the IRFB, the game was decided by the number of goals (conversions) and if they were level, by the number of tries. After the establishment of the IRFB one point was awarded for a try, two for a conversion and three each for a drop goal or a penalty.
That was until 1891 when tries were deemed to be worth two points. This number rose steadily and between 1977 and 1991, a try was worth just four points, while the other methods of scoring remained the same. The scoring system in place today has been in effect since 1992; five points for a try, two for a conversion and three for a drop goal or penalty.
Rule changes in rugby generally fall into two categories. There are those that improve the protection of players on the field, and those which promote try scoring and thus make the game more entertaining for the masses. Any change in the points system falls into the latter.
Statistics from the 2015 Rugby World Cup revealed that when faced with the option of three points from a penalty or a possible five from a line out or scrum, teams should always choose the three.
“Tier 1 nations have allowed their opponents to score a try from just 9.8% of lineouts and 12.5% of scrums behind the 22-metre line–even allowing for scores that came two minutes after the original set-piece.
Every scrum a team is awarded in a Tier 1 side’s 22 yields an average of 0.91 points in the ensuing phases of play; for lineouts, that number is just 0.72. For this reason, a kicker needs only a 30% chance of success rate for an attempt at goal to be the better option.” via The Economist
The solution therefore is simple, make it less profitable to kick by reducing the points and more profitable to cross the whitewash by increasing the points.
This season World Rugby trialled a new system in the Welsh Premier League. The experiment saw six points being awarded for a try and the points for drop goals and penalties being reduced to two.
Llandovery, who finished runners up in the league behind Pontypridd, scored a total of 83 tries in 22 games, giving them 3.78 tries per game. Compare this to Leinster, who have scored 43 tries in their 20 games thus far in the season, giving them a scoring rate of 2.15.
Based off this statistic, the adjustment in the points system has paid dividend. The tries that World Rugby are so desperate to see were delivered in Wales.
Yet the reality has not been so positive. Llandovery coach Euros Evans told the BBC this week that the altered scoring system “hasn’t had the effect they [World Rugby] were hoping for”. The change in the system did encourage teams to kick to the corner more regularly than they would otherwise yet this presented its own set of challenges. Evans went on:
There’s been many more driving line-outs and penalties from driving line-outs which has slowed the games down. That wasn’t really the intended outcome of the trial.
So rather than promoting a New Zealand-esque brand of running rugby that rains tries down from high, the change has had the opposite effect, seeing more stoppages in play due to infringements at the line out and scrum.
Evans was equally critical of the reduced drop goal reward. The change has meant that in a tight game where the margin is two points or less, a drop goal would not be sufficient to win it. Evans also felt that just two points for a drop goal did not adequately reward the skill:
The drop goal is a very difficult skill in any case. So that needs to be looked at.
Evans did praise World Rugby’s attempts to make changes. Unlike their counterparts in Football, Rugby’s top brass has not been afraid to experiment with the laws of the game to deliver a greater product for their fans.
It is therefore unfortunate that this particular experiment has not had the desired effect. Therefore it’s back to the drawing board at World Rugby headquarters in Dublin.
Dáire O’Driscoll, Pundit Arena
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