Tap and … Oh No

England were left to rue ‘poor decisions’ in their 14-20 defeat to Australia.  The focus was on a number of three point opportunities turned down in the second half, in particular scrum half Ben Youngs’ decision to take a quick tap-and-go.  Indeed, England passed up four kickable penalties in a bid to get the seven points they needed to get ahead on the scoreboard, rather than reducing arrears to three.

The quick-tap has become a means for commentators make themselves look very clever indeed.  ‘Poor decision, you should always go for the three points in test rugby’, they quickly tut-tut as soon as the move breaks down.  Or ‘Oh, terrific stuff there from [pint sized scrum half] there, he spotted the defence was napping, took a tap and go and now [whoever] have seven points instead of three.  Three cheers for [pint sized scrum half]!’

On Saturday, England scored a try from a quick tap penalty by Danny Care, with Tuilagi sneaking in the corner (good play), but left three points on the pitch when Ben Youngs took a tap that amounted to nothing (bad play).

It’s too simplistic to say the quick tap is a good idea when it comes off and a poor one when it fails.  Really, the decision to do this has to come from the management team.  Either Lancaster gives the likes of Youngs and Care enough rope to call it as they see it (‘heads-up’ rugby if you like) and accept that sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t, or he imposes a ban on tap penalties within kickable range – or he tailors his allowance for the tactic on a game-by-game, or situation-specific basis.  No player can exactly predict the future, so there will always be a risk attached to any such play.  As a coach, you live with it or you stamp it out.

In general, with our fondness for intuitive, heads-up rugby, we’d be a fan of the tactic and enjoy both Danny Care’s and Ben Youngs’ ability to put pace on the game when they’re really on form, and we’d be hesitant to overly criticise Youngs for his effort on Saturday. England have bigger problems, primarily that they don’t appear to know what they are doing – the rumours that Manu will be moved to the wing for the Bok game is mystifying, we aren’t sure in what universe he is a better winger than Charlie Sharples.

Anyway, back to the point at hand – here are some of the more memorable quick taps in recent times:

Best Quick Tap: ROG vs. South Africa, November 2004, Lansdowne Road.  ‘Go and talk to your team’, the ref allegedly told the South African captain John Smit.  So he did.  And while he was delivering the message with his back to the action, the cute hoor ROG tapped, went and got over the tryline for what turned out to be the crucial score.  The Saffers never forgave the apple-cheeked Corkman.

Worst Quick Tap: Peter Stringer vs. England, March 2006, Twickenham.  In a topsy-turvy game, midway through the first half Ireland won a penalty 30 metres out in front of the sticks.  It looked like a welcome three points was about to be bagged, but Strings seemed to spot a mismatch out wide and attempted a tap-and-difficult-cross-kick to the left wing, the sort of thing best left to those who can actually kick the ball.  He overcooked it and it went out of play for a lineout to England.  Ireland eventually won with Shaggy’s famous try.

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  1. Reddan can be shocking for taking quick taps, particularly against Munster for some reason. The ML Final in Thomond springs to mind.

    • Amiga500

       /  November 21, 2012

      Yep, but at the same time the Leinster backline has often thrived on getting the game going quickly. For example, in the HEC final vs. Northampton, a few quick taps helped lift the pace of the game to a level Northampton couldn’t live with.

      Generally if your backline is poor, the risk associated with the quick tap rises – alot. But if you have (had?) the best backline in Europe (Leinster), then the risk:reward ratio is comparatively much lower.

      • Anonymous

         /  November 21, 2012

        Ah but this was at a stage when we were behind in a game we were struggling in big time. The taps were generally within our own half and all resulted in being turned over. The type of thing that has blighted Reddan’s career. It was a complete lack of game management.

    • I remember Reddan passing the ball straight to Mark Cueto from a 5 metre tap in the WC warm-up at Lansdowne in 2011. It wasn’t so much that he tried it, because it was definitely on, but that he passed to Mark Cueto. Even England players wouldn’t pass the ball to Cueto.

  2. Len

     /  November 21, 2012

    My suggestion for worst quick tap is Denis Leamy V Italy in Rome in 2007 he took a quick tap when no one but the Italians seemed to expect it and got isolated. From the turnover Italy scored reducing Frances target from 30 points to 23 and allowing them to beat us for the championship by 4 points.

  3. Stevo

     /  November 21, 2012

    This is an interesting issue you’ve highlighted here. We want our scrum-halves and out-halves to be playmakers, and this necessarily involves making split-second decisions while play is ongoing. Some coaches may be happier to have a scrum-half who sees his job as shovelling the ball onwards or box-kicking, or a 10 who’ll happily kick any ball he receives into the corners, but can you imagine the likes of Will Genia or Dan Carter being happy to do that? No, they have a great range of skills, but allied to that they have the willingness to try things, to take the risks when they see the rewards beckoning. If you want your half-backs to play with that kind of invention then you have to accept that they will occasionally make the wrong decisions.

    Ben Youngs is a player who can be brilliant on his day, but he’s gone through patches of poor form which seem purely the result of a loss of confidence. If he gets lambasted for doing the kind of things when on another day the rub of the green sees him praised to the heavens, what’s that doing to a young player’s psyche? If a player has an obvious technical flaw in his game then highlighting it will probably help him develop, or if a player is continually making the wrong decisions then maybe he should be encouraged to be a bit more circumspect, but let’s not limit a player by making him afraid to try the things supporters pay to see. Imagine if Johnny Sexton had decided to stick that penalty between the posts rather than running it against England in 2011?

    Regarding England moving Manu Tuilagi to the wing, I suppose they feel if he’s not going to pass the ball outside anyway, he might as well be running the touchline.

    • The thing with Manu is that he isn’t incapable of finding space or passing, its that boshing is his default option. It appears like England have no playmaking direction, and quick ball turns slow as Manu crashed into someone, because that’s what he likes to do.

      If he was instructed to play a specific gameplan, maybe that wouldn’t happen. He’s probably their best back, and should be utilized, but playing him on the wing (in place of an exciting young man like Sharples) is pointless

    • It strikes me as players being a little thick (e.g. Youngs), or getting too wound up in the moment.
      Woodward used to drill his squad on T-CUP (thinking clearly under pressure) so that they could make good decisions in the match situations. After that, it is down to a little bit of thinking off the pitch IMO, and, if desired, some kind of guidelines from the coach.

      Some examples: You have a very kickable penalty, which you’d expect your kicker to get 90% of the time and you’re 6 points ahead with ten mins left. Why run it? You eat up time and go more than a score ahead 90% of the time.
      Or you have a similar situation but 3 or less points behind. Take the kick.
      OTOH, a difficult kick which you expect to get no more than 40% of the time, you note the FB is out of position and you have a poorly spaced defensive line with weaker defenders in front of you and plenty of time left in the game. Its a good risk/reward balance to tap and go.

      Will Greenwood talks about ‘taking the temperature’ of a game and I think that is a good analogy too. Sometimes there is a need to up the tempo which overrides the ‘default’ of kicking to touch or taking on a difficult penalty kick.

      Can it be that difficult though to have the players sit down for 30 mins and discuss as a group what constitutes a situation where the shot at goal is correct and what doesn’t?

      • pedantic pete

         /  November 21, 2012

        That’s it in a nutshell, Doc. Its about having the intelligence to take all the factors into account when deciding when to go, not just the opposition defensive positioning.

        I’d argue Care’s decision to tap and go was a good one, irrespective of whether it came off, whereas Youngs’ was a poor choice, even if he had scored! Purely based on the stage of the game it was at and the position England were in on the scoreboard.

        Tapping and going, relatively late on in a tight game, always carried a much higher risk/reward quotient. The question you need to ask is: Would a Care or a Genia have taken the tap in that situation? I think not. Now of course of there was a massive gap and a clear run its a different story, but there was still a lot of work to do at the point Youngs took the tap. Bad decision. Simple as. Unfortunately its not the first time we’ve seen him make a poor judgement call in a big game….

      • What we are getting at here is England don’t have the calibre of on-pitch assessment that they did in the past – I think that’s fair. But how did Johnno, Lawrence Bruno Nero, Greenwood et al get theirs? Some was natural sure, but Woodward left no stone unturned, and you can guarantee, as you point out, they talked about how to manage particular situations.

        Didn’t Johnno say once they had a plan for going down to 13 and being camped on your own line, as they were in NZ in the summer of 03?

  4. Stringer’s quick tap the worst? Not so sure. Earls knocking on a quick tap just metres from our own try line in Stade de France a few years ago ranks as the worst I’ve ever seen.

    • Oh yes, that was a bit of a howler. We went for Stringer, though, because even the very idea of it was ridiculous. He was attempting something pretty difficult and I’m not sure it was even on.

  5. Andy Pandy

     /  November 21, 2012

    I caught an interesting interview with Woodward after the game. His line was that these decision should never be taken by players on the pitch, but by te couch on the training ground. He argued that the key players should know what to do in each situation. So it is not the case of whether it works or not, but whether you followed the game plan correctly. I don’t know if Woodward is just trying to bluff everybody.

  6. Very much a situation dependent decision, the important part (as others have pointed out) is the quality of players around you. France and BNZ and at club level Leinster, for example, have quality rugby players scattered throughout the team and a quick tap is more likely to benefit them. More deliberate teams like SA or Ireland just aren’t interested and this stems from the coaching philosophy. Slow, deliberate steps leading to death by a thousand cuts if you will allow me to mix my metaphors.

    As a spectator Im a big fan of the quick tap, regardless of the outcome.

  7. ABROG

     /  November 22, 2012

    I’d love the option of having the audio feed from the crowd and ref only. One can only tolerate so much unedified gibberish.

  8. I think that conversely, quick-tapping in your own half can often have better consequences for the momentum of the game, specifcally if you are up against the more ‘deliberate’ teames that Colm was on about above. Kicking to touch from a penalty may gain you territory and the fabled ‘foothold’ we hear so much about, but it also gives the opposition time to adjust their defence to the change in situation. Tapping a penalty in your own half and moving the ball wide is likely to catch the defence off-guard, with multiple backs in the back-field anticipating a kick, and the forwards bunched in around where the play has broken down, starting their slow retreat back 10, allowing the attacking 3/4 line time and space to attack and giving the whole team momentum into the opposition half, at which point the defence is not only on the back foot but also severely disorganised, providing your 3rd, 4th and 5th phase attacks to find mismatches and create chances. Furthermore, quick-tapping in your own half doesn’t allow for that annoying moment you guys are talking about when the commentator points out the missed opportunity to kick for goal, which is indeed annoying! It’s a win-win situation, but I agree with the above comments that teams need to work out their gameplan for these situations well in advance and be clued-in to what’s going on, BNZ and Leinster clearly do this…

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