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.