Wanted: One national goal-kicking coach, must love frequent flyer points

Brett McKay Columnist

By Brett McKay, Brett McKay is a Roar Expert

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    Bernard Foley’s Spring Tour goal-kicking was far from the only issue the Wallabies need to address in 2017, but it did raise a broader issue that has afflicted Australian rugby at the highest levels for several years now.

    For the Tour Foley kicked 19 goals from 25 attempts, a success rate of 76 per cent. It’s marginally down from his 2016 success rate of 76.3 per cent and down further from his career rate of 76.8 per cent.

    But it does now highlight just how good his 2015 Rugby World Cup return of 28 from 35 – an 80 per cent success rate – really was.

    These numbers are mostly sourced from the usually excellent South African-based website www.goalkickers.co.za; I say ‘usually’ because for reasons unknown it doesn’t include the final weekend of 2016 internationals in its numbers as yet. Its last update was 28 November, taking in the weekend including the Wallabies’ match against Ireland.

    Nevertheless, to that point, Foley had kicked 16 our of 20, or 80 per cent, ranking him fifth among all kickers. The ranking formulas used by Goalkickers take into account things like average difficulty of each shot as well as pure flags up or flags down as the ball passes the uprights.

    Ireland flyhalf Paddy Jackson (13 from 13, 100 per cent, ranked first) and Welsh fullback Leigh Halfpenny (18 from 22, 81.8 per cent, second) topped Foley in the overall rankings of the ‘regular’ kickers, though Foley was rated ahead of All Blacks flyhalf Beauden Barrett (11 from 12, 91.7 per cent, eighth), Argentinean flyhalf Nico Sanchez (16 from 19, 84.2 per cent, 10th), Scotland skipper Greig Laidlaw (14 from 17, 82.4 per cent, 16th), and England centre Owen Farrell (17 from 24, 70.8 per cent, 32nd).

    Looking in Foley’s Spring Tour kicks – specifically the first four Tests – a bit deeper makes for interesting reading.

    b-foley-spring-tour-goals

    For one thing, having clicked on all twenty of those dots, a couple of things stick out.

    Foley hadn’t missed a penalty goal at all in the first four Tests, though you might recall he missed one from in front to start the Test against England;

    He had only two attempts at goal from inside the 15m tramlines down the right-hand side of the field; this has always been, and remains his weak point on the field.

    The majority of conversion attempts were down the left or in front of the posts, suggesting that the Wallabies had a clear left-side bias in their attack or that if anyone did cross out wide down the right, they improved the position of the conversion on all but one occasion; and

    Including the England test, Foley kicked 9 from 10 penalties and 10 from 15 conversions.

    Foley’s Super Rugby return was slightly higher than his full 2016 season, with my spreadsheet marking him down for 47 from 60, or 78.3 per cent. The breakdown was 34 from 40 conversions and 13 from 20 penalties, which doesn’t sound like a lot, though it should be remembered he missed the first five rounds this season on return from Japan.

    Of the ‘regular’ Australian kickers in Super Rugby this season Christian Lealiifano kicked 64 from 81 at 79 per cent for the Brumbies, Reds flyhalf Jake McIntyre kicked 25 from 37 at 68 per cent and Rebels 10 Jack Debreczeni managed only 45 from 69 at 65 per cent as be battled at times just to hold his spot in the team.

    The Western Force’s kicking was shared between Jonno Lance (13 from 15, 87 per cent) until he got injured, Peter Grant (22 from 28, 79 per cent) when he took over, and Ian Prior (15 from 16, 94 per cent), who finished the season as the preferred kicker. The Force did a lot wrong in 2016, but their kicking at goal was the best in the country.

    These broader numbers are where one clear deficiency in Australian rugby emerges.

    In reality Australian kickers just haven’t reached the lofty – or ‘match-winning’, to put it another way – heights of 80 per cent for any consistent period, never mind over a career.

    In this day an age when specialist skills, like scrummaging, lineout throwing and indeed kicking out of hand, have specialist coaches charged with their oversight, why is it that Australian goal-kickers haven’t progressed from that fair-to-middling pack?

    The Wallabies haven’t really had a sharp-shooting goal-kicker since maybe Matthew Burke, and to find one at Super Rugby level you almost have to go back to someone like David Knox.

    Worryingly, the next group of Australian players are no better, with goal-kicking averages in the NRC stuck at plus-or-minus 70 per cent for the three seasons of the competition.

    Most front-line kickers these days do have personal mentors. Foley himself has done some work with Andrew Mehrtens, and Lealiifano has used not-the-former-Rebels-coach Damien Hill for years. But is the odd session here and there or an irregular video review enough to find the improvements needed?

    The figures suggest not.

    I’m not sure that goal-kicking is part of Mick Byrne’s remit as national skills coach and, frankly, he’s got enough on his plate trying to lift the national skill level anyway.

    But if the Australian Super Rugby sides and the Wallabies truly want to take that next step in terms of consistency, kicking three from five every game isn’t good enough.

    The benchmark needs to be 80 per cent; if you can consistently kick eight goals from every ten attempts, you’ll win a lot more games than you will kicking only six or seven.

    A national goal-kicking coach, therefore, is something that should be given serious thought. The benefits should be clear to all and the workload is similarly obvious when the Australian success rates are highlighted.

    Given these numbers haven’t really changed over the last however many years, it makes you wonder why it hasn’t been considered before. No doubt there is the question of affordability, but when no Australian kicker has stood out as being world class for years, can we really afford not to?

    Give the right person a bag of balls and a frequent flyer card and reap the benefits.

    Brett McKay
    Brett McKay

    Brett McKay is one of The Roar's good news stories and has been a rugby and cricket expert for the site since July 2009. Brett is an international and Super Rugby commentator for ABC Grandstand radio, has commentated on the Australian Under-20s Championships and National Rugby Championship live stream coverage, and has written for magazines and websites in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the UK. He tweets from @BMcSport.

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    The Crowd Says (105)

    • December 13th 2016 @ 8:55am
      Mike Dugg said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:55am | ! Report

      Who needs a goal kicking coach when you have Foley the Ice Man? He never misses when it counts.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 1:02pm
        swifty said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:02pm | ! Report

        his name is the ice man so it must be true

    • December 13th 2016 @ 9:14am
      BrainsTrust said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:14am | ! Report

      Barret missed only one from 10m.
      Barret also made 3 kicks 1 from the sideline, 1from 5 , 1 from 10.
      75% from 10m outward is excellent.
      FOley has more difficult shots , 2 from 4 from the sideline, 2 from 5. His record at that range is excellent.
      The problem is two misses at 15m, he did have 3 from 5 shots from about 15m versus none for Barret.
      75% from 10m out versus 63% from 15m, it makes no sense.
      .

      • December 13th 2016 @ 11:09am
        Terry said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:09am | ! Report

        Barrett doesn`t really need to kick his.. Foley does..

        • December 13th 2016 @ 11:18pm
          Dontcallmeshirley said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:18pm | ! Report

          The day will come when an AB game hinges on BB’s boot. That will be interesting.

      • Columnist

        December 13th 2016 @ 3:45pm
        Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:45pm | ! Report

        Goal-kicking is the one flaky element of Barrett’s game, if I’m honest. Some games he’ll nail everything, the next he wouldn’t hit the side of a shed with a frozen pea…

    • December 13th 2016 @ 9:38am
      Hello said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:38am | ! Report

      Thanks for the article Brett.
      For the most part I am happy for a my kicker to be kicking at 75%-80% but I expect them to be taking kicks from nearly anywhere inside the 40m.
      I think most kickers should be at 80% for penalties (as you do not take many from 40m out from the sideline), and above 70% for conversions.
      It is obvious that we need some help throughout all of the super teams with goal kicking.

    • December 13th 2016 @ 9:55am
      Walfootrot said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:55am | ! Report

      I am glad you have made a point of this. I think any goal kicker that achieving 80% should be staying back at training and better still going down to the park in his/her own time and doing more practice. 80% is not good enough! It comes down to personal discipline and technique……if a kicker is happy to keep striking it at 70% then move aside…..you’re not up for the job. We lose too many games by whether a try is converted or not. Sustained 7 point tries sustains momentum. Trying to win with 5 points for every forth try or worse is not going to win you the close encounters. Then throw in the wobbly and easy 3 pointer misses and it just disgusting. It reflects on a kicker whole attitude to his role in the team. Kicking is easy points……it’s much easier to be gifted 3 points from 45 mets out that spend truck loads of energy trying to run it from everywhere. Not hat I don’t love running rugby, but fix the kicking!

      Like many commenting here here I played in the amateur era. I had to study and work whilst keeping fit and training and playing. It was my role to take all kicks. I would practice virtually every second day even daily, but enjoyed the practice as it made me better! I would experiment with all angles on the ball. I would experiment with all sorts or height and draws on the ball. From all angles and even from the try line on both sides of the posts……swinging it like a golf shot. I strongly feel the northern hemisphere guys have a better technique with Johnny Wilkinson leading the way. Striking the ball is after all very much like a golf shot. I would always zone the posts out of my mind, have the ball sitting much more upright, unlike Foleys technique, pick a spot between the posts and far behind, and using my leg as the club, chip it too that aiming point. You get it right and of course it goes thru the posts. I am not saying I got it right all the time but lying the ball down like Foley does takes away distance and accuracy.

      These kickers are now on a break. But in my opinion they should be still out there practicing as this year was far below a pass mark. They are paid to do this…..no more crap excuses like, oh had an off day….or another off day…..bla bla

      The other point is what ever happened to the old spiral torpedo. With enough practice it has a much greater effect at finding its mark in distance and travels at greater speed. When used to effect, it was incredibly accurate at turning defences around, plus do it right and it will hit the ground and tumble the way you want almost every time. I see these ridiculous kicks of ours in general play, with either poor execution or no plan at all, with no distance and no one chasing and landing them in a spot where opposition teams have slaughtered us on the counter attack. It’s like kick and hope…..similar to our attitude to our kicking culture, just run from everywhere! Yeh well that’s working well for us…….not!

      • December 13th 2016 @ 12:42pm
        piru said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:42pm | ! Report

        The last Aussie player I can think of to kick a torpedo was Cam Shephed, he used to bomb them from behind the Force 22 into the opponent 10m area regularly. Was one of the features of the early Force games and used to get the Perth AFL centric crowds cheering.

        On that note, whilst AFL is often bemoaned as taking all the good talent, why is there no (none that I can see anyway) attempt to get AFL coaches in to help with kicking (or taking high balls for that matter)?

        The Crusaders brought a bloke from the Sydney Swans(?) in to help with high balls – one of the last skills Richie McCaw added to his bag was the ability to take an overhead AFL style mark in both hands, it changed the way the Crusaders did their restarts.

      • Columnist

        December 13th 2016 @ 3:49pm
        Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:49pm | ! Report

        Nice post, Wall, good of you to take the time.

        I would just mention a likely difference in the ball you kicked and what Foley kicks now, in which the ‘sweet spot’ has shown to be on the end – hence why Foley (and every other goal kicker at any decent level now) lays the ball down on the angle he does..

        • December 13th 2016 @ 4:56pm
          Walfootrot said | December 13th 2016 @ 4:56pm | ! Report

          Hi Brett.
          Thanks for your input. That is interesting……I played schoolboy level in the late 80’s then representative in the 90’s…..and I have to admit it doesn’t look like it’s changed much but I have not seen a match ball since I stopped coaching about 15 years ago. Why is it though that both Dan Carter and Owen Farrell still stand it quite upright as for memory so did Johhny Wilkinson? I seem to recall they place it in a much more upright position….for exactly the reason you point out….the sweet spot, but also through trial and error, gave greater distance and more control. I know Johnny teaches it like a good golf shot, hence his different run in and strike as opposed to say Bernard’s.

    • December 13th 2016 @ 10:02am
      arthur rightus said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      As I have mentioned on The Roar before I have some experience as a specialist goal-kicking coach. From that experience, I can tell you the biggest issue is the lack of willingness to devote sufficient time to such a specialized skill. Admittedly my last experience at a professional level was some ten years ago but I don’t see that things have changed since then.

      As an amateur player in the 80’s I found time to practice 5 days a week for around an hour a day on my own. When I was asked to help goal-kickers at a Super Rugby club, in one of my first meetings with the coach I told him if they were fair dinkum about achieving a plus 80% level with their kickers, that 4-5 days a week one hour sessions was the minimum requirement. I was told straight up that was not possible. As someone who played in the amateur era, to be told professionals, who have ALL DAY to train, could not fit this in, was staggering to me. Especially considering this one skill has such a huge bearing on the outcome of so many games.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 10:06am
        Walfootrot said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:06am | ! Report

        Authur, well done buddy……just posted the same stuff in my post above yours. I was in the same role and have coached kicking as well. Totally agree with you. Our guys are just accepting mediocrity, they should therefore move aside and give it to someone who is prepared to put in the extra work for the love of it! There are no more excuses and the fans are sick of hearing them.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 10:56am
          arthur rightus said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:56am | ! Report

          I was exactly like you Wal. I practiced constantly because I loved it and as it was such an important role I felt is was my responsibility to my team to continue that search for perfection that can only be achieved with a $hitload of practice. The thing is you gotta really want it. One of the first questions I ask any kicker I’m asked to work with is if they really enjoy it. If there is any hesitation whatsoever I know I’m wasting my time and I suggest to their coach they find someone who really wants the job.

          Trouble is, in these days of instant fixes not many are prepared to put the work in that is required. I sometimes get calls from coaches around semi finals time asking me to have A session with their kickers but by that stage it’s too late.

          As Brett suggests, if the ARU was serious, it would be a full-time gig, but it won’t happen unfortunately

      • December 13th 2016 @ 10:23am
        The Electronic Swagman said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        Point well made. I forget how many hours Wilkinson devoted to practice goal kicking but by all accounts it was extraordinary.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 10:35am
        BrainsTrust said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:35am | ! Report

        The difference between an amateur and professional is they should have an assistant to fetch the ball for them.
        If you have a single ball and practice for an hour, your going to spend a lot of time fetching the ball.
        I would say 10 balls and someone to fetch them and they should be getting off about 5 times more kicks in an hour.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 12:39pm
          Bakkies said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:39pm | ! Report

          Heard stories about Carter running comps for kids who were willing to fetch the balls for them. They also get to improve their kicking the ball back to the man.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 5:15pm
          Perthstayer said | December 13th 2016 @ 5:15pm | ! Report

          I don’t think Wilkinson even had someone fetching his kicks.

    • Roar Rookie

      December 13th 2016 @ 11:30am
      Shane D said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:30am | ! Report

      Something that isn’t bought up much these days is the restrictions put on goal kicking practice.
      I am reading in the comments here that Foley needs to practice more etc.
      Most teams restrict their kickers from over practicing due to concerns over groin injuries (the dreaded osteitis pubis). Post the 2011 RWC & the loss of Carter & Slade to groin damage the AB’s definitely restructured the amount of kicking their goal kickers do.
      I wonder if the Wallabies are doing the same with Byrne on board.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 3:43pm
        ClarkeG said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:43pm | ! Report

        Good point. Barrett, last year with the Hurricanes, aggravated an on going hip problem with goal kicking practice and had to cut back.

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