Possession may be nine tenths of the law, but in sport it is not a lot of good unless you turn that possession into points or goals. The Western Force have found that out the hard way in 2015.
Last week at home against the Stormers, the Force once again dominated possession but ended up going down to their eighth defeat of the season. This is a far cry from the side that finished the 2014 season so strongly. Tonight against the Chiefs they will welcome back Captain Matt Hodgson, but it will still be a tough battle against the high-flying Chiefs, even if they are without Aaron Cruden.
Post defeat coach Michael Foley was quoted as saying he was frustrated at one of two opportunities his team had failed to finish off in the second half, which were a pass away from becoming tries against a side that rarely concede more than four or five tries a game. A valid point but once again his side were penalised in front of the posts and had a penalty try awarded against them, which proved the difference between the two teams, the final score being 6-13.
It is interesting to look at two successful teams of the past and how the principles in the game do not change no matter how many years pass, and despite all of the sports scientists, and nutritionists teams feel necessary.
In 1971 The British and Irish Lions beat the All Blacks in New Zealand. It was an event described by Sir Graham Henry as “the biggest wake-up call in New Zealand Rugby History.”
The British and Irish Lions had planned heavily for this tour and thanks to many of the Welsh players who had been thumped on tour two years previously, and who made up the nucleus of the Lions side, they identified areas where the series would be one and lost.
Post tour they shared some of these areas and how they combatted the All Blacks in the line out, in the scrum and in general play.
Irishman Ray Mcloughlin stated in his presentation, reproduced in the book “How we Beat The All Blacks” that area ‘I feel is much under-rated is the matter of not giving away penalty kicks.” He then proceeded to highlight just how important this is when two evenly matched teams are competing. As he rightly stated in such a game tries will be hard to come by and may even themselves out. Teams will concede penalties and he claimed on average there will be six straightforward kickable penalties which may even out at three per side.
He produced statistics that despite how evenly matched sides are only 31% of games will end in a draw. “The probability is 69 per cent that the penalty goals will be split 4-2, 5-1 or 6-0 and the probability is that one team will score six points more than the other through penalty goals. ”
He continued “If you go further and assume one team is better than the other by one try and you have the other conditions still applying, then the scoring of that try will make no difference to the winning of the match. The team that has six points from the penally goals does not need the try and the other side still will not win.” This was written when there were only four points for a try and does not therefore stack up today. However the principle in relation to conceding penalties does.
Jake White when he was Springbok coach in the lead up to the 2007 World Cup worked tirelessly on his team not conceding kickable penalties. At international level most sides have a kicker capable of converting from half way. White was determined that his side would reduce the number of penalties that they conceded in their own half. They managed to reduce the number to by more than half by the time they arrived in France for the World Cup.
With their own kicker being reliable, Percy Montgomery ended up the highest points scorer at the tournament. He scored two tries, converted the most conversions and was second to Felipe Contemponi of Argentina by one in penalty conversions, with 17.
In the final against England Jonny Wilkinson converted two from two attempts, Montgomery four from four and Francois Steyn one from 2 attempts. In the semi final Montgomery had four from four conversions and three from three when it came to penalties. His opposite number Felipe Contemponi had one from one in conversions but 2 from 4 in penalty attempts. In their quarter final v Fiji again South Africa converted five from eight, while only conceding two penalties which Bai converted to go along with his two conversions. Finally, as the point is becoming clear now, in their toughest pool game against England, South Africa kept England to zero points. Montgomery converted three conversions from the three tries scored, he then slotted four penalties from four attempts and Francois Steyn converted one from one.
It should now be clear that if you want to be in with a shout of ending a losing run, or winning games, the conceding of kickable penalties has to be eradicated. The Western Force has to address this. If they are unable to turn possession into tries, then they must ensure that they do not give the opposition easy points. If they starve their opponents of points they are more likely to infringe and concede penalties themselves and allow the Force to collect easy points.
Sport is when broken down very easy, however having the discipline and being able to keep it simple once the whistle blows is a completely new challenge altogether. Just the same history odes not lie, and great teams have the ability to show the required discipline when its needed.