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Wallabies' goal kicking under scrutiny in World Cup preparation

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 25/05/2014 Georgina Robinson
Kurtley Beale slips up against the British and Irish Lions. © AP Kurtley Beale slips up against the British and Irish Lions.

Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie has conceded Australia's goal-kicking options need urgent reinforcement leading into next year's World Cup.

As last year's heir apparent Christian Lealiifano performs some way off his cool-headed best this season and newly anointed Test five-eighth options Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale stumbled badly against the Rebels on Friday, McKenzie signalled greater support for and scrutiny of Australian rugby's best kickers.

"There's a bunch of kicking options, Christian's historically had really good numbers but that's not there at the moment and the other guys are all kicking at around 75 per cent," McKenzie said after naming his Wallabies squad last week. "We'd like that to be a little bit more, because your [Leigh] Halfpennys are into the 80s."

The Australian Rugby Union appointed kicking consultant Damien Hill earlier this year to put greater emphasis on kicking across its whole program, from club and under-20s competitions right up to the Wallabies. Hill, who is not to be confused with the former Rebels coach of the same name, worked as a consultant to Australian former NFL kicker Darren Bennett, as well as with the Newcastle Knights and Brumbies, working closely with Lealiifano, before taking on the national role.

He has worked with some of the Super Rugby franchises this season and will join the Wallabies for a few days ahead of the Test series against France when they head into camp on Sunday. "When you go into World Cups there are fine margins and things like drop goals suddenly become important," McKenzie said. "You can't just invent them for the World Cup, they've got to be part of your thinking and practice when it's appropriate. Every World Cup I can think of has had games in it that are decided by drop goals and that's part of the culture of that sort of competition."

Lealiifano has fallen hard from the lofty heights of last year, when he kicked 80 goals from 102 attempts for a 78 per cent success rate and was Australia's best answer yet to Wales' Halfpenny and the All Blacks' Dan Carter. The Brumbies centre, who has recently returned from ankle surgery, has kicked just half of his 24 attempts in Super Rugby this year. Foley, the Waratahs' No.10, had kicked 47 from 59 attempts (80 per cent) before the Waratahs' win against the Rebels on Friday. He missed two of his four shots at goal on Friday, an uncharacteristic wobble that dragged his success rate down to 76 per cent.

Beale, who takes kicks form further out than about 40 metres, missed all three attempts in the same match, dragging his success rate down to 44 per cent from 67 per cent, albeit off a much smaller number of attempts. Waratahs coach Michael Cheika was completely unfazed by the off night, not in the least part because his playmakers produced some season-best form in attack.

"Both of them had the wobbles, we left a few points behind, but they've kicked very well this year so you have to give them that space," Cheika said. "Me carrying on about it is not going to make a difference, they're the kickers and they're going to keep kicking all year, so they have to work on getting themselves sorted out."

McKenzie said it was important to build a foundation that worked across all five Australian provinces. "It's like golf, you can come in and try to change or make everyone have a perfect swing, or you can take an approach where you build a base and make sure there's consistency around that," he said. "The latter is where we're going to focus. I'm not going to try to reinvent everyone's kicking style, it's more about having some broad principles and making sure they're consistently coached.

"We need reference points, too, and opportunities over time to address the mental part of it and the consistency. If you can measure it you can start playing around with it from a coaching point of view and also how you train for it, because you have to create the pressure environments."

Struggling for consistency: Christian Lealiifano. © Jeffrey Chan Struggling for consistency: Christian Lealiifano.

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