On Friday I went to the Wallabies Captains Run and watched Matt Giteau and Quade Cooper working very hard on their kicking and as I noted in my article on Matt Giteau’s kicking later that day, Giteau was still having troubles whilst Cooper was kicking well.
What I didn’t realise at the time was that this was a “kick-off” between the two to help Robbie Deans decide on who would be kicking against Ireland. As we now know he went with the left-side, right-side strategy and that seemed to cause confusion between the kickers when the first kick was straight in front. Giteau eventually took this kick and started poorly but he recovered later in the game, although his later kicks were from close range.
I’m not a fan of the two kickers strategy and believe the coach should select the player that is kicking the best, back him, and let him develop a rhythm.
I thought this week I’d follow up with a more detailed look at what I think is going on with Giteau’s kicking.
First, I look at some kicks under pressure for the Wallabies in the last decade.
There’s the John Eales kick against the All Blacks in 2000 to retain the Bledisloe Cup after fulltime. This was a remarkable kick, given what was riding on it, but also the fact that Eales had played a full game in the tight five and hadn’t kicked at all during the game. As Eales said in his biography he focussed on his goal kicking mantra “Head down, slow, follow through to the posts …”. He struck the ball sweetly and the rest is history.
Similarly two weeks later Stirling Mortlock had a kick against South Africa from an even wider angle than the Eales kick to win the game and Tri-Nations for the Wallabies. Again, a sweet strike under enormous pressure.
Then to the 2007 World Cup and with three minutes to go Stirling Mortlock steps up to take a long range penalty shot. Had that kick gone over and the Wallabies beaten England who knows what might have happened in the rest of the finals series.
Writing in the Australian on Saturday, Wayne Smith made the point that poor goal kicking has cost the Wallabies 3 of the 6 tests leading into the game against the Irish. In the game against Ireland last year Matt Giteau missed two penalty attempts that would have put the game out of reach of the Irish, against Scotland he missed the conversion of Ryan Cross’s try on fulltime and then the missed penalties late in the second half against England a couple of weeks ago.
The kicks against Scotland and England are obvious but I think it’s a bit of a stretch to lump the Ireland game last year on Giteau’s kicking. He kicked quite well that day with four from six including one from the left touchline to convert Rocky’s try. The two penalties he missed were at the 14th minute mark of the first half and two minutes into the second half.
In Peter FitzSimons biography of Eales it’s described how goal-kicking legend Grant Fox taught Eales some of the finer points of kicking. “Concentrate as you take your steps in, on bringing your leg through on a perfect straight arc … The other extremely important point is where your non-kicking boot lands. It must be a hip’s width to the side of the ball and be pointing directly at the target or you’re wasting your time”. Then Fox went on to tell Eales “Mentally, empty your mind of everything but the routine. All thoughts of ‘this has gotta go over, this has gotta go over’ are a waste. The ball doesn’t know the situation, and doesn’t care! It just wants to be hit sweetly and you’re not going to be able to oblige unless you are relaxed”.
Last week I pointed out that Giteau has a technical flaw in that he doesn’t follow through and therefore his head is so far behind the ball that he has a tendency to swing across the ball too far and therefore push it to the left of the posts. This can also result in a pull to the right of the posts.
John Eales shared a strong friendship with Ben Perkins who also helped him with his kicking. It’s interesting that Ben Perkins is now Matt Giteau’s kicking coach. He has been quoted over the last couple of days talking about the kick Giteau missed against England from in front saying “He was leaning so far back he cut it like a poor golf posture scoop”.
Robbie Deans has now acknowledged there is a problem saying “He’s going through a speedbump at the moment, there’s no doubt about that. But he has allowed it to affect his mental processes and that happens to even the best. The point is the player has to own the solution. At the end of the day, he is the one that has to master it.”
However, John O’Neil had a different view saying “We will leave no stone unturned. If a kicking coach is what we need, let’s do it. Whatever it takes.”
I’m amazed that Robbie Deans didn’t get a kicking coach in last week or work with Giteau himself on the problems. Ben Perkins suggested the other day he could fix Giteau’s problems in two sessions. Regardless of who it is, Giteau shouldn’t just be left to fix the issues on his own.
Hopefully this video explains a little more about the problem that I see with Giteau’s kicking.