Distance … where Boks, SA franchises still retain kicking edge

Frans Steyn (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Frans Steyn (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
  • The closeness of New Zealand derbies is coaxing teams there toward banging over penalty goals when on offer.
  • Beauden Barrett is increasingly accomplished in open play with using his less familiar left boot.
  • SA kick guru Vlok Cilliers says our placekickers still have an edge when it comes to range off the tee.

More regular aiming at the posts from penalties, plus stronger use of the dropped goal. Those have been early hallmarks of Super Rugby Aotearoa in New Zealand ... bringing their rugby a little closer in cultural terms to the “South African way”.

But there is one area where place-kickers from the Land of the Long White Cloud haven’t yet matched counterparts here: in distance off the tee.

So says Vlok Cilliers, the former Springbok and SA Sevens player and specialist kicking consultant, who has been signed up to assist the French national team in that department right up to the end of the 2023 World Cup on those shores.

Cilliers is still in South Africa ahead of rejoining Les Bleus’ training plans some time in August.

But he has been watching Super Rugby Aotearoa with interest, and increasingly believing that when the All Blacks swing back into action, they may stick with the brew of once staple pivot Beauden Barrett (Blues) at fullback and Richie Mo’unga of the Crusaders at flyhalf.

“The percentages show that Barrett has been used more and more, and increasingly well, with his left foot for kicking in general play from the No 15 position by the Blues, despite his right boot still being more natural,” says Cilliers.

The guru and former Western Province No 10 says the strength-versus-strength feel to the all-domestic NZ competition goes a long way to explaining the noticeable shift back toward goaling penalties when on offer.

“Scores are frequently close in these matches ... with respect, this is not like playing the Sunwolves where your main thought will usually be to score as many tries as possible.

“Runaway scores aren’t happening a lot, so accurate kicking at the posts is playing a bigger role … suddenly players are trying drops as well.

“We’ve been talking (in the French set-up) about the importance of getting the dropped goal into the picture as a scoring option at times.

“It has always been a part of the culture in SA rugby. Handre Pollard, before that Pat Lambie and Morne Steyn ... it goes much deeper, back to the days of Naas Botha and De Wet Ras; they could all be real factors with the drop.

“I suppose the only negative is when someone misses a dropped goal from a reasonably close range: some (New Zealand franchise) coaches will still regard that as a chance frittered away to score a try instead.

“But in a tight game it can still make a crucial difference.

“I am old-school in a couple of a ways: that a dropped goal can be an important asset, and also that you should try to build scoreboard pressure, build your innings - especially early on - through kicking your penalties over.”

But Cilliers also reckons South Africa generally still holds sway - helped by thin-air conditions in highveld parts of our country - in kicking range off the tee.

“Over the years we have repeatedly had the advantage of guys who can kick at the posts from extraordinarily far out.

“Think back to Ras, and then more recently to Frans Steyn, Pat (Lambie) and even Johan Goosen (still on Montpellier’s books, aged only 27) who is a little bit forgotten.

“Even just before the era of Rassie Erasmus as Bok head coach, during Allister’s (Coetzee) time, someone like Ruan Combrinck, if he was playing at wing, would be relied on to have a go from inside his own half at times - it’s just a traditional advantage we have.

“I remember All Black centre Ma’a Nonu (103 Tests, 2003-15) saying to me once that the Boks around 2007 and a bit beyond that were deemed difficult to play against because the All Blacks felt pressure not to be penalised anywhere within 60 metres of their posts.

“He said they were all too aware we had Monty (Percy Montgomery) banging them over extremely reliably from close, and then Frans from the long ranges ... they always knew that somewhere we had a guy who could kick a mile.”

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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