Rugby: The Mechanics of the Dropkick

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Rugby: The Mechanics of the Dropkick

The rugby dropkick is a technique that may be employed at any time on any part of the field by a player seeking to either score or to create an advantageous field position for the team. The dropkick is most effective as an offensive weapon when employed to attempt a drop goal, a kick that results in the ball traveling through the goalposts for three points.

There are no rules limiting who on the rugby field may attempt a drop goal. Typically, as the backs tend to handle the ball more often in the course of a game, they will be most proficient in this technique. Teams will often create offensive sets where they can put the ball in the hands of their best dropkicker to attempt a drop goal at an appropriate time. The dropkick is distinct from placekicking—when the ball is placed in a stationary position and the kicker runs up to kick it. Generally placekicks occur during conversions taken after a try or a penalty.

The mechanics of the dropkick begin with an understanding of the ball and its dynamics as it travels through the air. A rugby ball is oblong shaped, approximately 12 in (300 cm) long and 25 in (620 cm) in circumference, constructed of leather or a similar synthetic composite, with four separate panels and a stitched seam. The rugby ball is distinct from the round soccer ball and the less oblong, narrower American football. When kicked correctly, the rugby ball will spin on its axis in an aerodynamic spiral, and it is capable of being sent over 60 yd (52 m) by a skilled dropkicker.

The primary object of a dropkick is to strike the ball with the kicking foot the instant after the ball has been dropped to the playing surface. The progression made by the kicker to deliver an effective dropkick begins with the kicker holding the ball with two hands, positioned on either side of the ball, with the seam of the ball away from the kicker's body, toward the intended target. If the kicker is moving with the ball prior to the intended kick, the player will come to a stop, even for a brief period of time, to ensure that the mechanics of the kick can be executed from a stable body position. The ball ideally will be angled away from the kicker at an approximate 45° position, with the kicker's arms extended from the body. The kicker will seek to swing the kicking foot through the ball; for this reason, the kicker will first firmly plant the non-kicking foot into the playing surface, so as to maintain maximum stability on impact. As the kicking foot will usually follow a slightly sweeping motion, as opposed to a straight-on approach, the body of the kicker may be leaning at a slight angle away from perpendicular to the surface just before impact.

The ball is dropped to the ground, with care that the angle at which it was held by the kicker is preserved in its downward flight. The kicker will try to ensure that the point of the oblong makes contact with the surface, and not any greater portion of the ball. The kicker will then endeavor to strike the ball with the kicking foot the instant after the point of the ball has struck the ground. At this moment, the kicker's foot will be positioned in a downward (planter flexion) position to permit the length of the foot from the approximate point of the big toe joint through the instep to make contact with the ball. To achieve the desired height, trajectory, and distance on the dropkick, the kicking foot and leg will be in a smooth, powerful motion to generate a follow-through; the kicker's arms are generally positioned away from the body, once the ball is dropped, to provide balance.

Unlike the American football placekicker, the dropkicker will often resolve to attempt a drop goal in the open field due to an advantageous game circumstance. The kicker must develop a kicking rhythm that can be employed almost instantaneously.

The dropkick remains a legal tactic in American football, a reminder of the rugby roots of that sport. In 2006, quarterback Doug Flutie successfully executed a football dropkick for the first time in over 60 years, from a distance of 20 yd (17 m). Flutie's feat attracted significant media attention in North America. However, such a dropkick is entirely routine in rugby.

see also Football (American); Rugby; Soccer: Bending the ball.