A drop goal or field goal, also referred to as a dropped goal, is a method of scoring points in rugby union and rugby league and also, rarely, in American football and Canadian football. A drop goal is scored by drop kicking the ball over the crossbar and between the uprights. After the kick, the ball may touch the crossbar or goalposts, but not the ground (i.e. it must be on the full), before it goes over and through.
A drop goal is worth three points in rugby union and one point in rugby league. If the drop goal attempt is successful, play stops and the non-scoring team (the scoring team in rugby union sevens) restarts play with a kick from the centre spot. If the kick is unsuccessful, the offside rules for a kick apply and play continues until a normal stoppage occurs, usually by the kicked ball going dead or into touch. Defenders may tackle the kicker while he is in possession of the ball, or attempt to charge down or block the kick.
In rugby union, the play is officially called a dropped goal and commonly abbreviated to "drop goal".
Tactical use of the drop goal
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At three points in union, the drop goal is relatively valuable and therefore it is not unusual to see it attempted at any point in a match. However teams which believe they are stronger than their opponents in scoring more valuable tries generally do not want to sacrifice a good territorial position by attempting a drop goal.
Teams which are in the lead often use the drop goal to maintain a margin over the opposition of more than seven points, i.e. more than a converted try, the maximum single score possible. They will often do so immediately after their lead has been cut.
Some teams play a strategy of ensuring that they score points every time they get close to their opponents' 22 metre line. If they do not score a try within a certain period of getting there and if their opponents are disciplined and not giving away penalties, they attempt a drop goal.
Sometimes a team defending their try line makes a hurried clearing kick or hack at a loose ball which goes down the centre of the field. In these circumstances the attacking team's fullback will sometimes try a long-range drop goal from there or near the half-way line. Paul Warwick of Stade Français was particularly well known for this during his time at Munster.
A team often tries a drop goal just before half-time, especially if they think the referee is going to blow the whistle at the next stoppage and they feel their attacking move is about to break down.
The advantage rule for a penalty is also exploited by teams to score a drop goal. In such a scenario, the referee signals penalty advantage to the attacking team when the location of the infringement is difficult for kicking a penalty goal. If the attackers aren't in a good position to score a try, they may attempt the drop goal. If they miss they do not lose anything, because they have not gained an advantage, and the referee still gives them the penalty.
Some teams such as the South African Springboks have been notable for use of the drop goal, while others such as the New Zealand All Blacks seem to spurn it and prefer to run the ball. There is a view that this contributed to the All Blacks, then the world's No 1 ranked team, being knocked out of the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which the Springboks won . (this tournament also featured more kicking than usual)
Notable drop goals in rugby union
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- South Africa's victory margin in the 1995 World Cup came from a Joel Stransky drop goal in extra time.
- Jonny Wilkinson duplicated the feat for England against Australia in the World Cup final in 2003. Notably, the normally left-footed Wilkinson kicked the winning goal with his right foot.
- Australia were eliminated from the 1995 Rugby World Cup by a Rob Andrew drop goal for England.
- Australia's Stephen Larkham kicked a forty-eight metre match winning drop goal in extra time in the 1999 World Cup semi-finals against South Africa.
- Jerry Guscott dropped a match and series-winning goal in the second test for the British Lions on the 1997 British Lions tour to South Africa.
- In their 44-21 quarter-final win over England in the 1999 Rugby World Cup, South African Jannie de Beer dropped 5 goals, a record for a test match.
- In the 2009 Six Nations, when Ireland played Wales to decide whether Ireland would win their first Grand Slam since 1948, Wales scored a late Stephen Jones drop goal to seemingly deny Ireland, only for Ronan O'Gara to score a drop goal of his own two minutes later to give Ireland the lead. A Jones penalty from near midfield in the last few seconds fell short, securing the Slam for Ireland.
- J.P.R. Williams's drop goal from fifty yards secured a 14-14 draw for the Lions in the fourth test of their 1971 British Lions tour to New Zealand and clinched their 2-1 victory over New Zealand, the only Lions series win there. It was Williams' only drop goal at any level of rugby union.
- Jonny Wilkinson holds the record number for drop goals in an international career: 36 at time of retirement (including 3 for the British and Irish lions). The record was previously held by Argentine Hugo Porta with 28.
Points value of a drop goal
A drop goal is worth 3 points. From time to time suggestions have been made in some quarters of the international rugby community that the number of points for a drop goal should be reduced, or drop goals should be limited or discouraged in other ways. These suggestions have often come from New Zealand and Australia where the use of the drop goal is not so common.
In Australian rugby league, the term field goal is usually used, drop goal less commonly.
Since the reduction of their value from two points to one in the early 1970s, the drop goal's use has largely been in the latter stages of a match (or half) in order to break a deadlock, or for "insurance" points i.e. to extend a lead to more than a converted try.
Notable drop goals in rugby league
- In the 1989 Challenge Cup semi final, Joe Lydon kicked a 61-yard drop goal to give Wigan a 7–6 lead against Warrington. Wigan went on to win the match 13–6.
- In 2010, Hull were losing 26-6 to St Helens, however Hull fought back in the second half and with 5 minutes left it was 26-26,
- In 2013, Pat Richards scored a drop goal 45 metres from the St Helens try line and close to the touchline to edge Wigan 15-14 in front during a 22-16 defeat.
- In 2010 Benji Marshall kicked a 51 metre drop goal to give West Tigers a one point lead going in to halftime.
- Also in 2010 during week 1 of the NRL Playoffs the West Tigers led 15-14 over Sydney Roosters until a 40 metre drop goal by Braith Anasta tied the game up and went to extra time for the first time in a finals game.
- In the 2000 World Cup semi-final Wales used drop goals as a method of keeping possession away from the stronger Australian team.
In other Rugby descendant football codes
The drop-kick field goal is a rare but still legal part of American football and Canadian football, other football codes descended from Rugby football; in both sports, it can be used to score a field goal (three points) or a try (one point). While both rugby balls and the American and Canadian football shape are prolate spheroids, the American and Canadian footballs gradually changed to become more elongated and pointed, a shape much more difficult to drop kick. The last successful drop kick in a professional American football game was when Doug Flutie successfully drop kicked a football for an extra point in the New England Patriots' regular-season finale against the Miami Dolphins on January 1, 2006; prior to that, the last successful drop kick in a regular-season game was in 1941. Flutie's kick was in the last game of his career, and he didn't usually kick the ball at all (dropped or otherwise) as he played Quarterback.
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