PHILADELPHIA, PA – If Italy, or any underdog, is going to compete, then they need to play well enough to force the opposition to make some difficult decisions. Part of playing well means making the goal kicks when opportunities are created to keep the game close.
Italy created momentum early with the Sergio Parisse try. Kelly Haimona missed the conversion–a kick that the average professional kicker will make about 60% of the time.
England responded with 15 points of their own, but Italy created another chance from a good kick chase that resulted in a penalty. At 30 minutes, Italy had the chance to pull back to 15-8. The kick was not difficult–70% probability of success. Haimona missed.
Italy earned another penalty, this one 50 meters out, a few minutes later. Italy gave the ball to Haimona for a shot at the posts. That seems an odd decision. At best, the odds are 50/50 of that kick going over. It didn’t go over.
Here is what seems the logical sequence of questions in moments like these:
- How likely is our kicker to make the penalty from this spot?
- How much territory are we likely to gain if we kick to touch?
- How likely are we to score or earn another penalty from the position of the subsequent lineout?
The kicker was unlikely to make the kick. Italy would likely have gained about 30 meters from the kick to touch, placing them inside the 22. (I am starting to collect some data on territory gained from kicks to touch from penalties, but initial observations make 30 meters reasonable enough.) The last question is the trickiest. Still, Italy showed throughout the game the ability to threaten England and to build pressure in attack. A lineout out 20 meters from the try line is a much easier place from which to build pressure than a lineout 40 meters from the try line, which is where Italy regained possession after England kicked to touch.
In the second half, Italy scored another try. Probability of the conversion going over? About 86%. Did it? No. If Haimona makes one penalty and one conversion, it is 18-15 and Italy are firmly in the game. Instead, 18-10.
In a few blinks, it was 42-10, and the match was over.
For the last 20 minutes, England could play and defend in their own half with no regard for the threat of penalty kicks. That is a quarter of the game during which England defended with the absence of a considerable pressure. That must make things easier mentally.
Italy’s decision making had to be in desperation mode, and England’s decision making and play could be in “let’s play to make ourselves proud” mode.
And then Italy get a third try and Tommaso Allan makes a tricky conversion and we all wonder, “What if?” Allan at 10 and Haimona at 12, that seems like it might give Italy the better chance to keep the pressure on Scotland.
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