Cape Town - Pressure ... it’s something Beauden Barrett, the poster boy of All Black rugby, all too seldom has to grapple with in international place-kicking terms.
So several of the planet’s foremost other kickers - very much including those from group rivals South Africa - could just steal a march on him in that department in vital, tight matches at next year’s World Cup in Japan.
That is the view of Vlok Cilliers, dual former Test and SA Sevens international and one of the country’s premier kicking gurus who runs a school in that specialist department in the Western Cape.
Cilliers, who has been kicking coach for both the Bulls and Stormers and currently does consultancy work for Japanese and French clubs, fully acknowledges that Barrett “is the world’s best and most dangerous flyhalf, and out of hand can kick very smartly”.
But he also brands him “far from the world’s best placekicker” - an area that could yet prove costly for the world champions at next year’s major jamboree.
“Look, a lot of time in recent years the All Blacks have been outscoring teams by, say, five or six tries to two, so even if he kicks at somewhere around a modest 60 percent success rate the All Blacks won’t feel it too much on the scoreboard.”
But when the Webb Ellis Cup-holders are properly challenged - as happened in their shock home defeat to the Boks last time out - by a determined foe, says Cilliers, suddenly their ability to land their goals comes into much sharper focus.
“What happened in Wellington (the 36-34 outcome in favour of SA) ... it’s not a fluke. There had already been stats available to show the danger of New Zealand losing through bad kicking.
“Barrett missed a few sitters, and that’s at his Hurricanes home ground where he should be able to kick with his eyes closed.
“By key contrast, Handre Pollard only missed one kick at posts on the day: he kicked well, with renewed confidence, and I was happy for him considering the unusual difficulties he had experienced in a couple of Tests before it.
“Handre has a bad game or two with his kicks, and suddenly some misguided people leap up and say he’s a bad kicker. But we are so much more used to seeing him kick at 80 percent-plus overall, and that is very good indeed – Barrett is only in the low seventies, and that after many more Tests than Pollard.
“Remember, Jordan Spieth isn’t suddenly a bad golfer because he misses a cut at a tournament ... it happens in sport, and Handre was always going to (snap out of it).”
Cilliers says the All Blacks’ series against the British and Irish Lions last year, where they were held to a stalemate, similarly showed up Barrett’s more consistent shortcomings in place-kicking.
“Look at the difference in the kicking stats from that series: the Lions’ Owen Farrell landed 9/9 penalties! To me the Lions got a share of that series because they opted for the three points whenever they were on offer, and were rewarded by Farrell’s accuracy.
“He kicked at 10 percent better overall (at posts) than Barrett did ... if you match them in the forwards and stop their momentum, then you force them to go for penalties and force Barrett more into the game with his kicking.
“I think the All Blacks are just a bit arrogant when they think by going for corner all the time, they’ll get a try.
“Why didn’t they go for a dropped goal that would almost certainly have beaten the Boks in the closing minutes in Wellington? Because I suspect they didn’t train for that - normally by the 79th minute of a Test they are leading 32-10 or 45-20, after all.
“For a World Cup you have to train those things; that event is a different kettle of fish in playing style. There is a better chance of some close games, especially as the tournament wears on. If they don’t sort out Barrett (his goal-kicking), I’m telling you they could run into problems.
“He is an unbelievable rugby player, I rate him, but place-kicking wise, he is not in the same league as Farrell, Jonny Wilkinson, Morne Steyn, Johnny Sexton or Leigh Halfpenny.”
Cilliers feels that Barrett lacks the depth of concentration of a Pollard, Steyn or Sexton when lining up kicks at the poles.
“Those guys know through harsher experience that any points can really count for their teams. Barrett doesn’t feel that so much; he doesn’t feel the pressure a normal flyhalf feels.
“All the other major kickers in the world are far likelier to have been exposed to pressure kicking at goal in the last quarter of games. Him? Not nearly so much. The others are fine, been there before.
“Of top New Zealanders, Carter, Mehrtens and Fox were all better at placekicking than Beauden. I think he uses too many steps in approaching the ball on the tee, and he is leaning too far back; there isn’t a sense of proper rhythm.”
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