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 @ 5:53am
      lesterlike said | December 13th 2016 @ 5:53am | ! Report

      Is it a cultural thing? I’ve noticed that Australians hardly appreciate/demand deadly goal kicker like other nations. It is hardly emphasised at schoolboy level where these skills are often learnt.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 6:44am
        Chinmay Hejmadi said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:44am | ! Report

        Yep and when he talks about the upcoming youngsters being poor in the NRC, it’s no surprise considering that that competition has rules that favour scoring tries and not kicking goals.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 6:54am
          Kane said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:54am | ! Report

          Here’s an idea, perhaps we change penalties to three points and conversions to two? As there are more penalties in a game than tries then that theoretically would give them more practice?

        • Columnist

          December 13th 2016 @ 6:55am
          Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:55am | ! Report

          Chinmay, those tries still have to be converted though. And even with the number of tries scored, there were still games lost because of goal kicking..

          • December 13th 2016 @ 7:48am
            Chinmay Hejmadi said | December 13th 2016 @ 7:48am | ! Report

            Yep, fair point. But what I’m hinting at is that perhaps players (I’m loath to level this accusation against coaches) might not be focusing as much on that aspect of their game (kicking goals) since scoring tries has assumed such importance. Maybe that culture of goalkicking just isn’t there?

            • Columnist

              December 13th 2016 @ 8:15am
              Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:15am | ! Report

              If a goal-kicker isn’t focussing as much on that specialist aspect of their game Chinmay, I’m absolutely pinning that on the coach. And on the player himself, obviously, but any coach who doesn’t place enough importance on the specialist skills in the team – regardless of the way the game is played in the competition they’re playing in – needs to seriously look at their approach to coaching…

              • December 13th 2016 @ 9:56am
                tezza said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:56am | ! Report

                Hi Brett, as a football coach I can honestly say no matter how much you practice if you don`t have the correct technique you may as well forget about it. In our sport technique is imperative to be able to hit a pass whether along the ground or through the air. Kicking a ball is like a golf swing, if you don`t have everything aligned and pointing in the right direction ie your feet and head then most times the ball is not going to travel in the right direction.

              • Roar Rookie

                December 13th 2016 @ 7:34pm
                KiwiHaydn said | December 13th 2016 @ 7:34pm | ! Report

                Case and point Beauden Barrett. Poor technique, stabs at the ball, and has stats to match.

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

                I agree. If he practiced for years it would not help. He would be reinforcing bad habits.
                But a fantastic player! I would pay good money to watch him but I would not cross the road to watch Owen Farrell kick 12 from 12 straight down the middle.

              • December 13th 2016 @ 12:25pm
                Bakkies said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

                Goalkicking is player driven. There’s a reason why top kickers like Carter and Wilko were the last to leave training sessions. They did their goal kicking practice in their own time.

                In the RTÉ documentary of the Ireland series in SA Paddy Jackson skipped a day out with the team to practice his goal kicking. His has improved out of sight. A few years back Ulster wouldn’t trust him with the kicking.

              • December 13th 2016 @ 4:55pm
                Perthstayer said | December 13th 2016 @ 4:55pm | ! Report

                Bakkies – Spot on. Star kickers should have OCD about their practising.

                Digging deeper through anyone’s proposed reasons as to the low % rate all I can see is that teh root cause is short sightedness or arrogance. Now let me think who might not be best suited to change that pattern 🙂

      • December 13th 2016 @ 11:00am
        Doubles said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:00am | ! Report

        Rubbish lesterlike
        Even John Eales was a better goal kicker than Bernard Foley.. Michael Lynagh Matt Burke Elton Flatley were all 75-80 percent kickers..Even Stirling Mortlock was better than Foley..You cant have a wallaby goal kicker like Foley if you want to beat the good teams..

        • Roar Guru

          December 13th 2016 @ 12:40pm
          Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

          Then who? We do not have a stand out kicker at the moment.. CLL was probably it, but he is a bit crook at the moment.

          • December 13th 2016 @ 1:59pm
            Doubles said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:59pm | ! Report

            I don’t care… Hodge will do or Quade .Just kick Foley out of the 23 as he is useless at everything….

            • Roar Guru

              December 13th 2016 @ 5:09pm
              Machooka said | December 13th 2016 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

              Well done Doubles… one of the most well reasoned, persuasive, thought through and argued comments I read on the Roar for some time!

              Oh, except the ‘I don’t care’ bit about CLL… I thought it somewhat harsh. Insensitive.

    • December 13th 2016 @ 6:25am
      ThugbyFan said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:25am | ! Report

      Nicely written Brett, but to my mind all 5/8 and IC in SR need to vastly improve on general field kicking.

      At Tahs and WB games B.Foley is almost guaranteed to miss the sideline for at least one penalty kick while others barely get over 10 metres. R.Hodge also missed once or twice for the WB on the EOYT though distance was much improved. Thus lack of consistency is a guaranteed hair-loss treatment as I pull my hair out.

      The other area in desperate need of remedy, as pointed out by N.Bishop, is in short attacking up-n-unders into vacant areas behind the rush defence and the long metre-gaining kicks to the sideline into the opponent’s 22m zone. Instead we see kicks sprayed all over the shop, usually straight into an opponent’s arms. Granted there seems to be a “run at all costs” edict from the WB and some SR coaches but Blind Freddy can see the occasional well placed kick upsets opposition defenders. Look at Jono Lance for the Force or the Highlanders in SR or how Ireland and England put the WB defence into panic mode and subsequent mistake/penalty to see how effective a good field kicker with well coached chasers can be.

      So yes, an improved penalty kicker would help but for the same price I would employ an astute tactical kick coach.

      The ball is in the ARU and coach M.Cheika court to take the blinkers off and see the bleeding obvious.

      • December 13th 2016 @ 12:31pm
        Bakkies said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

        In the Munster v Leicester game the Munster kickers spotted the isolated fullback and shelled him accurate kicks. The chasers didn’t always try and catch it on the full. They would tap it back then a loose forward will dive on it to commence first phase. The fullback was caught in two minds as the chasing was so accurate it got to the point where he was letting the kicks bounce so he didn’t get pummelled.

    • December 13th 2016 @ 7:57am
      Jack said | December 13th 2016 @ 7:57am | ! Report

      Kicking skills in Australian elite level Rugby is worse than before the professional era. Matt Burke was much better than anyone playing today and he did it for free. Few players can kick 50 metres plus and are there any who can do so with both feet? The half back can’t pass accurately under pressure. The hooker can’t throw consistently. Few players can pass consistently on both sides of their body. The fullback does seem to be able to pass at all. The drop goal is never used as a weapon when we have 70% of possession and can’t crack the line. The chip kick could unlock modern defences but it’s kick and hope. Imagine what could be done if the kicking skills were at the same level as the good old Footscray.

      • Columnist

        December 13th 2016 @ 8:19am
        Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:19am | ! Report

        There’s some very valid points here Jack, but let’s not kid ourselves that Matt Burke didn’t enjoy a long and lucrative professional career…

        • Roar Guru

          December 13th 2016 @ 8:30am
          PeterK said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          true Burke played for the tahs and australia from 1993-2004.

          So he was professional from 1996 onwards.

          However he was a very good kicker in 1993 so he learnt his craft as an amateur, so he learnt these skills for free.

          • December 13th 2016 @ 9:09am
            Daveski said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:09am | ! Report

            Legend has it Burke could kick goals from the sideline on the halfway in 13As at Joeys….. there’s perhaps some exaggeration there but he was an athletic freak.

            If Hodge can refine and practise he’s got the natural talent to be a tremendous asset as a goal kicker.

            Lance’a goal kicking like much of his play is under-appreciated.

            Will be interesting to see how Jooste goes for the Brumbies if he makes the starting team… I don’t see many other kicking options down there.

            • Roar Guru

              December 13th 2016 @ 12:45pm
              Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

              So far, I haven’t seen Hodge kick a goal… sure, he kicks it a long way… but still haven’t seen him actually kick a goal yet.

              • December 13th 2016 @ 1:33pm
                Utah said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

                Didn’t he kick one in his first test from 52m?

            • Roar Guru

              December 13th 2016 @ 10:55pm
              RobC said | December 13th 2016 @ 10:55pm | ! Report

              Daveski Jono needs to be injure free. Then he will be appreciated

              He’s a star 10 imo

            • December 15th 2016 @ 6:08pm
              Jigbon said | December 15th 2016 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

              Until matt Burke broke his leg he was such a talent. Seeing him on one team am and Christian Cullen on the other was always such a treat. Two of the best I reckon.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 12:34pm
          Bakkies said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:34pm | ! Report

          Same with Joe Roff. I had heard about him three years before he made his test début as an amateur.

          Mark Ella lauded for his attacking play still kicked drop goals in the Grand Slam win.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 8:32am
        PeterK said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:32am | ! Report

        what rubbish that Folau can’t pass at all.

        For example in the game against Ireland Folau passed 22 times and only 2 were weak.

        Foley passed 45 times but after the rest of the backs passed hardly at all. TK, DHP, Hodge all passed only 6 times each and all did at least 1 bad pass.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:47pm
        Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

        These are all truths… it is lamentable, but I now wonder what they do with their time? They train so professionally, but their core skills are so poor…

        I always look at League centres and wingers… boy, their passing is shockingly bad. Now in union, we have players who can’t pass both ways… I passed both ways when I was 13, because I practiced. How are players getting through the age groups with such deficiencies?

    • Columnist

      December 13th 2016 @ 8:04am
      Nicholas Bishop said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:04am | ! Report

      Glad you found that SA website Brett – pretty useful eh?

      Nice article btw!

      • Columnist

        December 13th 2016 @ 8:17am
        Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:17am | ! Report

        Yeah, I’ve been using it for several years now Nick, it’s a great resource. The measurement of difficulty and the mapping is as useful as it is enlightening..

        • Roar Guru

          December 13th 2016 @ 8:25am
          PeterK said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:25am | ! Report

          IMO Foley isn’t even a genuine 76% percent kicker since he doesn’t attempt kicks that probably all other first choice ones do. He has a shorter distance than any other countries kicker that I can think of. The difficulty rating also indicates he doesn’t take that many penalties from the tram lines either.

          • December 13th 2016 @ 9:12am
            Daveski said | December 13th 2016 @ 9:12am | ! Report

            I think that reasoning is also why Cooper’s defence stats officially read ok… he waives a lot of oppportunities to tackle ?

            • December 13th 2016 @ 11:07am
              Doubles said | December 13th 2016 @ 11:07am | ! Report

              Daveski,

              Chieka doesn’t select Quade even though we have had Foley losing games for us and missing tackles, kicks for touch and goal kicks for 3 years..

              Your argument has as much weight behind it as wet toilet paper ( Somewhat like Bernards tackling )

              • December 13th 2016 @ 3:04pm
                Daveski said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

                I don’t remember actually putting forward an “argument”. You’re obviously looking for one.

                Three years you say Foley has been losing us tests ? Well it’s been that long since Quade put together any sort of decent body of rugby work. Some of that is not his fault. Injuries, the fairly fruitless excursion to Toulon ( except monetarily of course ), little game time off the Wallabies bench. I’m happy to nominate him as Our starting fly half when mid way through the Super season he’s blitzing it and the Reds are well ahead of the Tahs on the ladder.

            • December 13th 2016 @ 3:57pm
              Terry said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:57pm | ! Report

              Daveski , Foleys kicking game was hit and miss again, and he was not able to control or influence any of our play . QC was brought on at the 64 min mark and left down the back waiting to get his hands on the ball… Foley was doing 5/8 of f@#k all, move him down the back or drag him and let QC have a crack. It is not like we weren`t losing anyway.- We have to go back to the drawing board. New game plan, if we had one, and one that works. We need players that are selected to execute that, not because they are the love child of the coach

          • Columnist

            December 13th 2016 @ 3:44pm
            Brett McKay said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:44pm | ! Report

            Peter, the difficulty rating I mention has certainly shown that Foley doesn’t take the more difficult kicks, no doubt at all.

            However, in his defence on the Spring Tour rankings at least, there were five other players in the top ten ranked kickers with lower average difficulty rankings. So he’s certainly not alone when it comes to picking and choosing…

            • December 13th 2016 @ 6:05pm
              soapit said | December 13th 2016 @ 6:05pm | ! Report

              doesnt that ranking take account of that tho brett (ie they might be taking easier shots but their % is up because of it as well)

              foley was a long way down based on success and difficulty i think last time i checked it

    • December 13th 2016 @ 8:16am
      BennO said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:16am | ! Report

      For a long time I’ve thought this was related to and indicative of the principal issue in Australian rugby, what goes on between the ears. Consistency has been our problem for ever and that’s an attitude issue.

      Self belief and confidence are all wrapped up in performing at the peak consistently. when you’re standing out on the sideline with the game on the line and a stadium of saffas screaming at you, if you don’t have the confidence that goes beyond belief and into knowledge that you will kick it, it’s not going over. I haven’t sensed that innate degree of confidence and attitude in our kickers since, yeah Matt Burke or even Lynagh. Both world cup winning kickers.

      The whole team needs to believe in themselves genuinely and the kicker does too.

      Also we need to toughen up. It’s been years since it looked like we could match it physically with the top teams. Fitness and attitude needs to improve but attitude for the kickers. Ok ramble over.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 12:56pm
        Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:56pm | ! Report

        Flatley was pretty good as a kicker. He kicked quite a lot of pressure kicks.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 1:47pm
          Mango Jack said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:47pm | ! Report

          Yep, remember WC final, 2003. His goal kicking kept us in it until Wilkinson intervened.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 3:00pm
          BennO said | December 13th 2016 @ 3:00pm | ! Report

          I nearly included him actually! But I didn’t think he was in the same league as the other two .

    • December 13th 2016 @ 8:23am
      BennO said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:23am | ! Report

      I had the “best comment ever” written out and lost it in some internet ether.

      Basically I think it is part and parcel of the lack of genuine belief in Australian rugby. The confidence that goes beyond belief and into knowledge that you’ve got it covered, be it a kick or a tackle etc. Fix that and the kickers will improve and so will the consistency of performance.

      How to fix it for the team stuff, i don’t know but with kicking comes with practice and sustained success off the park. Johnny W proved that.

      • Roar Guru

        December 13th 2016 @ 8:27am
        PeterK said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:27am | ! Report

        Doesn’t matter how much Foley practises IF his technique is wrong and if he doesn’t improve the length of his kick.

        All practise does is reinforce poor technique otherwise.

        Imagining tackling for hours but doing it with a leading head each and every time.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 8:30am
          BennO said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:30am | ! Report

          Implied in practice is that technique is a part of it. Practice isn’t simply repeating an action without thinking.

          • Roar Guru

            December 13th 2016 @ 8:33am
            PeterK said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:33am | ! Report

            then the first thing is to improve his technique so he needs someone to help him with that.

            • December 13th 2016 @ 8:39am
              BennO said | December 13th 2016 @ 8:39am | ! Report

              Well, yes of course he does.

        • Roar Guru

          December 13th 2016 @ 12:57pm
          Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

          I don’t think he can improve his length… You can’t create 10 metres of power. It is just not in him. Some people can kick 50, others can’t.

          • December 13th 2016 @ 1:29pm
            Markus said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:29pm | ! Report

            Honest question, what are the main factors in kick length if not technique?
            Size/height seem the most logical, but then you get a player like Nic White who was both shorter and smaller than Foley yet had the distance (if not the accuracy) for 55m shots.

            • Roar Guru

              December 13th 2016 @ 1:33pm
              Hoy said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:33pm | ! Report

              No idea… Bio mechanics. Power transferred from leg to ball?

              Some people have the biomechanics, some don’t. I don’t think Foley has them.. either place kicking, or his really poor line kicking.

            • December 13th 2016 @ 1:35pm
              Utah said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

              White has quite a rump on him. Similar to Joey Johns who also had a massive boot.

              • December 13th 2016 @ 1:50pm
                Mango Jack said | December 13th 2016 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

                On that basis, Wendell should have been able to kick them from 70m!

            • December 13th 2016 @ 7:22pm
              cuw said | December 13th 2016 @ 7:22pm | ! Report

              bigger boot , bigger legs, the strength of the legs to transfer the force and the technique + lots of practice to get the high accuracy.

              it is like a tennis serve – u can hit the ball har but can u keep it in the box?

              for kickers , generally the biggerboot helps. look at the long kickers- Frans steyn , Hodge , Marcello Bosch , Nemani nandolo , —- generally have big boots.

              also the power in the quads, and remaining more or less injury free on those muscles. most long distance kickers be it rugger or football have huge quads.

              technique matters, the run , the alignment of the body , the posture , the timing ….

              but all that counts for nothing without practice. both Wilco and carter were said to be crazy perfectionists , who used to practice even after the others had gone to shower.

        • December 13th 2016 @ 5:03pm
          Perthstayer said | December 13th 2016 @ 5:03pm | ! Report

          PeterK – On the mark.

          Foley might actually be a great kicker!

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