Much has been said about the booing of the kickers at Murrayfield on Saturday during the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland and England. While I would personally not boo a kicker, I feel the comments from Eddie Jones, were a deflection tactic, to distract from the performance of the England team in the game. It was a game that England deserved to win, primarily because they had better game management in the last quarter of the game. This was the only part of the game, when either of the teams had the upper hand. But it was another error strewn performance from England, though the weather was one of the worst I have witnessed while spectating. Played in worst, but thankfully the referee abandoned that game at half time. As for Scotland that is for a blog later in the week.
The booing of the kicker, may be seen as not respecting the kicker, but I feel that it is not that big a deal. I have watched rugby in many of the stadiums in Europe and around the world, and the booing or making a noise is not seen as an issue. It is something that is seen as a ‘home field’ advantage. While in the UK it is seen as not in the etiquette of the game, I don’t have any issue with it. When you listen to England Internationals, Danny Care and Chris Ashton, saying they have no problem with it, it gives more credence to Jones using it as a distraction tactic.
What I think has led to the increase in the ‘disrespect’ is the amount of time that the kickers are taking for the penalty to be taken. In the laws of the game (Law 8; 19-21), a penalty kick must be taken within 60 seconds of the signal to kick at goal (which must be done without delay). When you watch the games involving Ireland and England (the ones that I have witnessed first hand), both Johnny Sexton and Farrell, use every bit of time allowed and then some. It looked like it was only at the extremes of this time that the ‘disrespect’ started. While not condoning it, as I said earlier, people have their own right, and allowing for the pre-performance routines, it does appear that the time taken is influencing the supporters. The pre-performance routines are a key for a kicker, and I fully understand it (having a masters degree in Sport Psychology), but they have become more elongated since Jonny Wilkinson made an art form of them in the early 2000’s.
When you look at the time taken by Sexton and Farrell when they are taking their penalty kicks, they both exceed the 60 second threshold by a significant margin. Looking at the two six Nations games so far, Farrell takes around 75 seconds and Sexton close to 90 seconds. When you build in the acknowledgement of intention to kick, the Irish were taking nearly two minutes for a penalty being awarded the kick being successful or not. With the issues surrounding the amounting lost to scrums (see blog of 9th December https://mdwatsonsport.com/2019/12/cutting-down-the-time-wasted-at-the-scrum/), I would like to see the referees being more strict (and following the World Rugby Laws), and awarding scrums when the time is exceeded.
A final note, the worst experience I witnessed of booing a kicker, happened in Ireland in 2010. In the last game played at Croke Park and Ireland playing for the Triple Crown, Dan Parks, the Scottish 1st 5/8th, had a kick in the last minute to put Scotland ahead. The whole crowd (or the non-Scottish contingent) were booing. I always felt that the booing focussed the mind of Parks (and probably would for most professional rugby players), as he slotted what was to be the winning kick.