It’s not how of­ten the All Blacks kick, it’s how well they do it

CityPress - - Sport - Dan Retief dan.retief@city­ Follow me on Twit­ter @retief­dan

Spring­bok kick­ing coach Louis Koen was the first to plant the seed. “Did you know,” he said in an in­ter­view, “the All Blacks kick the ball more than the Spring­boks do?”

In this age of elec­tron­ics, some rugby writ­ers have swal­lowed the Vodacom rugby stats app so com­pletely, their re­ports are sprin­kled with fig­ures sup­port­ing one or other trend.

And true to form, Koen’s rev­e­la­tion was seized upon by those keen to show that Heyneke Meyer is on the right track when it comes to the Spring­boks’ style of play.

At the time, a lot of crit­i­cism was do­ing the rounds about how of­ten, almost ha­bit­u­ally, the Boks kicked the ball rather than keep­ing it in hand to build a bet­ter at­tack­ing plat­form.

You’re wrong, we were told, the stats show that the All Blacks – con­sid­ered the best at­tack­ing unit in world rugby – kick the ball more than we do.

My re­sponse was this: Have you seen how they kick? Have you seen the va­ri­ety of their kicks? Have you seen the ac­cu­racy of their kicks?

And, more­over, have you seen how of­ten they re­trieve the ball when they kick it? Have you seen how they man­age to put pres­sure on the re­ceiver? Have you no­ticed they try to kick the ball to land rather than to hand?

But the num­bers kept be­ing trot­ted out. More tries were the re­sult of kicks. Still more came off first-phase play and very few off long pe­ri­ods of pos­ses­sion, be­cause hold­ing on to the ball merely en­abled de­fend­ing teams to stop the thrust with one or two play­ers, al­low­ing the oth­ers to fan out to de­fend.

With this in mind, I’d have thought more would have been made of a remark by Meyer in the build-up to yes­ter­day’s test at El­lis Park. Speak­ing to the myr­iad mi­cro­phones and TV cam­eras on stilts in­vari­ably gen­er­ated by the pres­ence of the All Blacks in any city, the coach ended his dis­cus­sion on kick­ing by say­ing: “Peo­ple say I like kick­ing, I don’t; I hate kick­ing.”

The cynic in me wanted to re­act by say­ing, “You could have fooled me!”, but that would have taken out of con­text the point Meyer was try­ing to make: how­ever im­por­tant tac­ti­cal kick­ing is, it is only as good as the qual­ity of the kick.

He was at pains to stress that the All Blacks were best at this as­pect of the game. Rea­son be­ing they had been found want­ing against the Boks in 2009, when they lost to them thrice in a row.

So they set about work­ing at be­ing a bet­ter kick­ing team.

The All Black kick­ers – Dan Carter, Aaron Cru­den, Beau­den Bar­rett, Colin Slade, Aaron Smith and Taw­era Kerr-Bar­low – worked hard at per­fect­ing the art of kick­ing.

Sig­nif­i­cantly, the Ki­wis also started to pick play­ers on the wings with ex­pe­ri­ence at full­back – play­ers used to catch­ing the ball in the air such as Cory Jane, Ben Smith and Is­rael Dagg.

Meyer said he was dis­pleased with the level of tac­ti­cal kick­ing in all South African teams.

After call­ing Han­dré Pol­lard a “spe­cial player”, he said “his tac­ti­cal kick­ing is nowhere near where it should be”.

In­ter­est­ing, too, was Meyer’s ref­er­ence to how well Pa­trick Lam­bie was start­ing to play as his con­fi­dence re­turned after in­jury.

“It’s go­ing to be very tough to pick the best No. 10 next year,” Meyer said.

It may have taken him a good while – per­haps too long – to turn away from his favoured kick-as-a-first-op­tion pat­tern, but it is good to know the Boks are be­ing drilled not only to kick, but on when to kick and how to kick.

It re­minds me of a won­der­ful re­tort by Naas Botha when a fan jibed him about kick­ing too much rather than pass­ing. “Ja, that might be so,” said Botha, “but did you no­tice that when I did pass, we scored?”

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