Jack Carty stands alone among Irish goalkickers this season with not even Johnny Sexton able to keep him company.
Connacht’s newly-capped Dubliner has been out on his own for the last six months by virtue of something unusual in Swansea last autumn. He dropped a goal and if that doesn’t sound much of a deal, it remains one more than Leinster, Munster and Ulster have managed all season between them, Europe included.
As all four Irish contenders converge on the PRO14 play-offs and check their ammunition for the closing shots of the campaign, somebody ought to blow the dust off the weapon used in securing Ireland’s pair of 21st century Grand Slams as well as settling both extra-time World Cup finals.
The extent to which it has been neglected needs to be put in historical context. On a Sunday afternoon during the 1999 World Cup, Jannie de Beer kicked five drop goals against England in 32 minutes either side of half-time.
In other words the Springbok stand-off dropped five times more goals in barely half-an-hour than the four Irish provinces between them all season.
De Beer’s claim that he had been guided from above ensured instant elevation of his right boot to the same divine status as Diego Maradona’s left hand in the notorious goal for Argentina against another England team during the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico. Thirteen years after their footballers had been undone by the ‘Hand of God’, their rugby team had been sent home by the ‘Foot of God.’
“The Lord gave me the talent and the forwards gave me the ball,’’ said de Beer, well-known for his evangelical work as a pastor in his native Orange Free State.
So what, on earth, has happened to the humble drop goal? Joel Stransky’s steepler against the All Blacks at Ellis Park in 1995 won the World Cup for South Africa and moved Nelson Mandela into his famous dance. Jonny Wilkinson’s wobbler off his ‘wrong’ foot in Sydney eight years later did the same for England, minus the Presidential jig.
Ronan O’Gara’s secured Ireland’s first Six Nations Slam ten years ago and there wouldn’t have been a second without Sexton’s monumental missile in Paris.
Of the 40 teams competing in Europe’s three major Leagues, no fewer than 29 have failed to register a single drop goal all season.
The 12 English Premiership clubs have amassed one between them, Freddie Burns for Bath at Harlequins last September. At Twickenham last weekend, another Bath stand-off, Rhys Priestland, made a fleeting attempt to resurrect the drop only to miss from close-range.
The Top 14’s collective total stands at 13, a miserable tally but almost twice as many as the PRO14’s cumulative figure of seven. Four of those have come from one player, Sam Davies of the Ospreys.
For Munster fans, there will never be a drop to surpass the one at Thomond Park on November 12, 2011 when their team went through 40 phases in more than six minutes to manoeuvre O’Gara into position for the winner against Northampton.
Many of the best around in recent years are short on numbers for drops – Sexton 15, Dan Carter 13, Jimmy Gopperth 8, Morne Steyn 6, Owen Farrell 4, Dimitri Yachvili 2.
Jonny Wilkinson finished on 111, eleven short of Paul Turner’s career total for Newbridge, Newport and Wales as the most innovative kicker of his generation.
He says: “Drop goals used to be the first option, not a last option. A striking example of that happened during my time as head coach of the Dragons. We were playing Edinburgh at Murrayfield and were crying out for a drop goal to win the game but nobody had a go.
“Mikey Owen was the captain and Ceri Sweeney was playing ten. I said to them afterwards: ‘Why when were almost under their posts and needed three points to win didn’t you go for the drop?’
“They couldn’t give me an answer. Instead they gave an incredulous look which left me with the conclusion that it wasn’t part of their mentality.
If it’s high time someone put a preservation order on the drop goal, then who better to do it this weekend than Carty.
Disciplined Munster yet to see red
Tom Youngs’ dismissal during Leicester’s hammering by Exeter did rather more than suggest that the ailing Tigers will not go down without a fight.
In stark contrast to their perilous position near the bottom of the English Premiership, his early exit pushed the famous old club to the top of another table.
The ex-England hooker’s fate guaranteed Leicester joint leadership of the Red Card table alongside Bordeaux on four.
It would have been a straight fight between the two best-supported clubs last season had Florian Fresia’s red against Toulouse not ensured Toulon a share of the lead.
Sendings-off in domestic and European competition this season stand at 47, one more than last year and eight fewer than two seasons ago.
Of the Irish quartet Munster’s is the only disciplinary record without any red marks, in stark contrast to last season when Fineen Wycherley, Andrew Conway and Sam Arnold all went for early baths in the PRO14.
Noves makes a million
In what sounded like a serious contender for understatement of the season, Guy Noves declared himself ‘satisfied’ with the verdict of a French court awarding him €1m compensation over his sacking as coach of the national team.
He had asked for almost three times in support of his wrongful dismissal in December 2017.
France won seven of 21 matches under Noves which will have left the number-crunchers at the French Rugby Federation working out the exact cost of each win at €142,857.
The age-old maxim about nothing succeeding like failure in soccer management can now be applied to Rugby Union.
Benetton’s bid for history
No disrespect to Munster but underdogs the world over will be united in their support of Benetton Treviso at the Stadio Monigo tomorrow night.
After seven straight wins there, an eighth would virtually ensure an Italian presence in the PRO14 play-offs for the first time.
The endless suffering of the national team would make Treviso’s place all the more timely, an overdue reminder that Italy has more to offer than gallantry in defeat.
Remember, only one team has made successive trips to face Leinster in Dublin and returned home undefeated, winning there 17-15 last season and drawing 27-27 last weekend – Benetton Treviso.
Nonu rages against dying of light
On the far side of the world, a dreadlocked figure continues to bust the proverbial gut every weekend in the hope of eclipsing Rory Best as the Grand Old Man of the World Cup this autumn.
Ma’a Nonu, still raging against the dying of the light despite successive global titles as an All Black in 2011 and 2015, turns 37 next month which makes him even older than Ireland’s venerable hooker.
Back in harness with the Blues in Auckland after three seasons at Toulon, Nonu’s omission from the initial 41-man squad named this week does not exclude him from making the cut for Japan.
What it does is give him a rough idea of the competition in midfield — Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Anton Lienert-Brown and the injury-prone Sonny Bill Williams. Rest assured, they will be looking over their shoulders for the sight and sound of the old man in the race.