Analysis: Try, try again but fewer and fewer kicks

Excitement has been at fever pitch in the Guinness Six Nations this year, with a massive 48 tries scored in the nine games over the first three rounds, an average of 5.3 tries per match – the highest game average since 55 tries were scored in the 10 matches of the 1998 Five Nations.

Excitement has been at fever pitch in the Guinness Six Nations this year, with a massive 48 tries scored in the nine games over the first three rounds, an average of 5.3 tries per match – the highest game average since 55 tries were scored in the 10 matches of the 1998 Five Nations.

This is a far cry from the first two seasons of the five-point try, which was introduced in time for the 1993 Championship, and had completely the opposite to the intended effect of encouraging more attacking rugby.

After the change, the average tries per game dropped from 3.4 in the final Five Nations of the 4-point try (1992) down to just two tries per game for the following two years.

In fact, when the try value was upped to four from three in 1972, it also initially had precisely no impact with the average being 3.5 tries per match in the 1971 (3-point try) and 1972 (4-point try) campaigns.

Looking at it a different way the try (and following conversion) have accounted for 240 of the 389 points scored in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, or 77% of the total points tallied.

This represents the highest such percentage seen since the free-flowing 1953 Championship, where 34 three-point tries were scored (and half of them converted) to account for an impressive 79% of the total points scored coming from tries and conversions.

The game of course is constantly evolving, at the very outset of the Championship in 1883, there was actually no try-scoring at all, with matches being decided by the number of goals scored.

In fact, the try itself had little intrinsic value, apart from affording the scoring team the opportunity to try and convert it to register a goal, the name “try” derived from the fact that it gave you the chance to “try to kick a goal”.

In 1890 each scoring method was given a points value for the first time, but there was no uniformity with those values being decided by the home team, that season a try being worth one point if the game was played in England or Ireland, but two if it was in Scotland or Wales.

The try value then steadily increased to be worth 3 points in 1894, four in 1972 and five in 1993.

So, if over three-quarters of the points scored in 2019 come from tries and conversions, what has happened to the other scoring methods – the “foot” in rugby football?

Whilst the accuracy of place kicking has markedly improved with better playing surfaces and technologically advanced balls, with the overall success percentage of penalty goal attempts increasing from 72% in 1997 to almost 80% last year, their impact on points scored has dwindled.

There have been only 28 penalty goals kicked so far this season for a miserly 21% of the total points scored, the lowest since just 16% of points came by way of penalty goals during the 1970 Five Nations.

Back as recently as 2013 over half the total points scored were by virtue of the penalty goal, and in 1994 shortly before professionalism it was 60%, so the game is certainly changing, with captains often opting now to turn down a kick at goal for the chance of a try through winning an attacking lineout.

The drop goal has also seriously dipped as a scoring method with only ten even being attempted since 2016, compared to the 28 attempts in each of the 2000 and 2002 editions.

Their success is also diminishing with just six successful kicks since 2015, compared to 11 being kicked in both the 2003 and 2010 Six Nations Championship, and a whopping 13 going over in the 10 games of the 1985 Five Nations.

While we can never be certain of what way the trend will go next, the increased volume of tries and its enhanced importance as a preferred method of scoring is unlikely to diminish anytime soon.

You need no more proof that rugby is a family game than to look at the team line-ups in this season’s Guinness Six Nations.

For the France v Scotland encounter at the Stade de France in Round 3 there were three players selected who are sons of Six Nations players, and another who is the offspring of an illustrious Five Nations player.

France included Damian Penaud on the wing and Romain Ntamack at fly-half, both of whom made their Championship debuts in Round 1, following in the footsteps of their famous fathers Alain Penaud (12 Championship appearances 1992-2000) and Emile Ntamack (17 Championship matches 1994-2000).

Scotland named Gary Graham and Adam Hastings on the bench, sons of George Graham (11 Championship games 1998-2002) and Gavin Hastings (24 Five Nations matches 1990-95).

The Wales – England match in Round 3 was similar, with England’s half-back partnership of Owen Farrell and Ben Youngs both sons of championship players.

Andy Farrell (three starts in 2007 and now a coach with the Ireland team), and Nick Youngs (five Five Nations starts, also at scrum-half 1983-84).

The Wales number eight in the game was Ross Moriarty – his father Paul played in 10 championship games for Wales in the back-row 1986-88.

Just one Six Nations head coach has had a son who has also played in the prestigious tournament: Mike Ruddock coached Wales from 2004-2006, whilst son Rhys has so far made five appearances in the for Ireland, all as a replacement, from 2014-16.

Overall 17 different pairs of brothers have taken part in the Championship since 2000, with fifteen of those named together in the same matchday squads.

For the record here’s the list of siblings: Delon & Stefan Armitage, Mauro & Mirco Bergamasco, Simon & Rory Best, Manuel & Denis Dallan, Jonathan & James Davies, Simon & Guy Easterby, Max & Thom Evans, Jonny & Richie Gray, Rob & Dave Kearney, Rory & Sean Lamont, John & Martin Leslie, Craig & Scott Quinnell, Nicky & Jamie Robinson, Leonardo & Jacopo Sarto, Mako & Billy Vunipola, David & Paul Wallace, and Ben & Tom Youngs.

In addition, Thomas Lievremont played for France in the Six Nations from 2004-06 and his older brother Marc was head coach of France from 2008-11.