Category Archives: Martin Rhys

Another penalty kick to touch…

By Martin Rhys

Picture by Tomos Evans

Picture by Tomos Evans


Last week I drew attention – not that it needed drawing – to the way Japan spurned the offer of a kick at goal to draw a match against South Africa with the final whistle about to blow.

It worked perfectly for them. They went on to score a try and make the biggest rugby headlines ever and more admirers amongst neutral rugby fans than probably any other national side in the World Cup.

Last weekend, another team were three points behind with just minutes left on the clock. The referee blew for a penalty. They had a metronomically accurate kicker who hadn’t looked remotely like missing anything all night. Three points and a draw were there for the taking – a formality, a foregone conclusion.

Just like Japan, they spurned the kick and went for touch.

They lost.

The team of course was the host team, England. The opposition was Wales. Now, putting aside for the moment my unfettered delight at the result and the way in which it was achieved, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the way in which the same decision at pretty much the same point in two matches had such dramatically contrasting consequences. I wonder how much of it was to do with the effect the decision had on the opposition.

When South Africa gave away their penalty, they were certain that they had thrown away their narrow victory and would have to put up with a draw. No other eventuality crossed their minds at that point. Japan had played out of their skins, yes, but after all there was a certain world order and Japan would respect that and be grateful beyond their wildest expectations for a share of the spoils. When Japan kicked for touch, it hit home very directly that Japan believed they could win and that belief of Japan’s had an intimidating effect on the Springboks because they hadn’t for one moment seen it coming.

When Chris Robshaw turned down a definite draw and ordered Farrell to go for the touchline, Wales must have been delighted. Rather than wonder like the Boks what on earth was going on, the Welsh reaction would have been more like,

‘Oh, you really think so, do you? Well, let’s see, shall we?’ Or words to that effect…

Not long before that penalty, Wales had lost another three backs to injury to take their total to six, and in the face of that cruel depletion had scored a try where a scrum-half playing on the wing had cross-kicked to give the other scrum-half a chance to pick up and score. Which he did.

For probably the first time in the match, Wales were full of themselves. The men on the field were defying the odds of cruel injury and a chariot-ridden Twickenham, and believed that they could do it.

It was absolutely the wrong time to challenge them to defend a try. They would have died rather than concede.

Two almost identical decisions on what to do with a last-minute penalty. One spot-on. The other so very wrong.

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The Best Rugby Result Ever?

By Martin Rhys

I’m old enough to remember Wales thumping up cricket scores against Japan during the 1970s. Phil Bennett the diminutive Llanelli outside-half would waltz through the Japanese defence at will, thrilled to be playing against somebody his own size for the first time since he was eight.

He wouldn’t have been so thrilled this week. How times have changed. Emphatically no longer the whipping boys of world rugby, Japan turned the tables good and proper on a rugby super-power, the mighty Springboks.

And it wasn’t a case of putting up a good show as gallant losers either. They actually beat the two times world champions, matching them for power and speed and whacking them for spirit and pace.

So much about the victory was superlative that it’s difficult to know where to start.

Probably at the end.

Three points behind with the clock going into red. The referee blows for a penalty to Japan. The penalty is easily kickable, particularly for a man who has barely missed a pot at goal all afternoon. Kick this penalty and they draw with the world champions. What a result!

They kick to touch…

Now come on! Who amongst you – after 80 bone-shuddering, lung-vacuuming, soul-wrenching minutes – would not have taken the chance of a draw against South Africa? And a much more than honourable draw, a draw which would have made headlines across the rugby world as the mighty Boks were humbled. I’d have taken the three points. Be honest, so would you.

Not Japan.

They were after bigger headlines, headlines which would turn the Boks’ humility into humiliation. They went for touch, won the lineout, and for over four interminably red minutes spread and twisted the South African defence until the hint of a space was enough for Hesketh (not the most obviously Japanese of names but who cares!) to make the line.

Consider for a moment the amount of belief in yourself and your team that went into that decision to go for a win. I can’t think of many nations in that David v Goliath position who would have done the same. Yet it was simply the emotional and indeed logical culmination of the belief and spirit which they had shown throughout the match. Close-ups of Japanese forwards during a lineout were nothing short of awe-inspiring and even scary. They would permit nothing to be an obstacle to completing the goal they had come to achieve. That goal defined them. For 85 minutes that’s all their lives were about. It was what they had to do.

(A short diversion here – read last year’s Booker Prize winner The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. It will repay you mightily and add to the insight into the Japanese psyche that you glimpsed in this match.)

As for the World Cup, it couldn’t have had a better result at a more perfect stage of the competition. All the preliminary matches with the no-hopers acting as cannon-fodder for the big boys, the matches nobody is remotely interested in watching? Well, Japan changed all that!