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High balls, cross-field kicks and the return of the mighty drop: kicking has been a prominent feature of the early rounds of the Rugby World Cup as teams seek to penetrate increasingly aggressive defenses.

The last World Cup in 2015 was dominated by teams keeping the ball in hand, even from deep inside their own territory — and none were better at this than the All Blacks, who sealed a second consecutive Webb Ellis Cup.

But Japan 2019 so far has seen teams revert to the boot to avoid lengthy exposure to ultra-aggressive rush defensive lines that could result in errors.

The two blockbuster matches so far — New Zealand-South Africa and Australia-Wales — both saw exactly 61 kicks of various types, a huge number given the ball was only effectively in play for 40 minutes.

Teams are kicking for territory as a response to stronger defenses, but also to elicit errors from opposition backs, especially as the ball is swea

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