Friday, 5 October 2012

Take two

Awarded a penalty, the questions arises: to kick for goal or not to kick for goal?

Regular readers (welcome, both) may not be surprised to know that I've got a theory about this and it runs thus: kicking for goal is almost always the wrong thing to do.

There's a similar adage in cricket where someone old and wise said 'nine out of ten times you opt to bat first. The tenth time, you think about putting them in and then ddecide to bat first". The classic example came in the first Ashes Test of the 2002/3 series. After winning the toss, Nasser Hussain said "we'll have a bowl" to the astonishment of everybody. A day and a half, 130 overs and 492 runs later, it looked a colossal mistake. It's not quite that extreme in the case of kicking at goal, but a lot of things have to be in play to convince me that the shot is worth taking. Allow me to elaborate.

The fundament of my thesis is a belief in that it's always better to do what your opponent would least like you to do. At any stage of any game, high on that list will be defending another set while very low down it will be the opportunity to spend a minute and a bit getting some much-needed oxygen into the lungs while not getting pounded by another wave of attacks. Working from that standpoint, the list of occasions where that is not top of the list becomes tiny.

There are also occasions where your own interests trump inflicting misery on your opponents such as stretching the lead beyond six or taking time out of a game. The Huddersfield v Leeds game at the Kirklees Stadium threw up a good example. After being reduced to twelve players and leading 22-4 early in the second half, Huddersfield were twice awarded penalties in kickable range. In those circumstances, the need to preserve energy combined with stretching the lead to outweigh forcing Leeds into defence as the best option.

Any other time, just don't do it. Doing the thing the opposition would prefer you to do gives them a boost, as could the admission on your own part that you don't reckon you break them down. Neither does the notion that you get the ball back hold much water. Anyone who has seen more than half a dozen games has seen enough fluffed restarts or short kick-offs regained. A potential two-point gain can quickly and easily become a four-point loss. The other side of that coin is that you could easily knock on early in a set after putting the ball in touch, but I'd counter that by pointing out that you'd still be turning the ball over at the far end from your own line. Arguments about percentages fall apart.

Kicking for goal is the weak, negative option in almost every circumstance. The sight of experienced coaches waggling two fingers about in circumstances that don't require a shot at goal is a depressing one. Lets hope that the new wave that recently have been or shortly will be appointed to head coaching jobs are a little more progressive and we get back to an attacking, positive ethos.

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