Monday 11 December 2017

Kickers feeling the pressure as Hansen turns to Barrett Jr

Jordie Barrett runs through kicking drills during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Eden Park. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Jordie Barrett runs through kicking drills during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at Eden Park. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

Although four years ago the series came down to a dominant Lions performance against Australia in the final Test, the recent history of Lions suggests the kickers will have a say in how Saturday's decider will pan out.

Whether it's Jeremy Guscott's drop-goal in 1997 or Morne Steyn's long-range effort in Pretoria eight years ago, these clashes are so often decided by who can hold their nerve and deliver when the opportunity presents itself.

So, the decision by Steve Hansen to call Jordie Barrett up to start his first Test match in an all-or-nothing clash with the Lions at Eden Park makes for interesting reading.

The 20-year-old is a talented youngster, probably the best player of his generation, who was held back from the U-20 World Cup in order to be available to train and learn from the senior men.

A younger brother of World Player of the Year Beauden and All Black second-row Scott, he has been born for this stage and his rise has been inevitable; but few saw him getting the nod for a Test of this magnitude.

Beauden's shortcomings with the kicking tee have opened the door, yet it is remarkable that Steve Hansen's backline options have reduced to such an extent that he is calling on a young man with no experience to kick goals in the biggest game between World Cups.

Click to view full size graphic
Click to view full size graphic

The older Barrett brother is the All Blacks' first-choice out-half and his playmaking abilities are beyond dispute, but his goal-kicking can be flaky as we saw in Wellington last weekend.

He missed three penalties from 10 in a three-point game, but it was the nature of the misses that will have upset the New Zealand coaches who have publicly defended their No 10 this week.

He kicked 100pc in the first Test, but struggled in difficult conditions on his home patch last Saturday as his poor Super Rugby kicking form caught up on him.

His success rate of around 70pc is well below what is expected at the level he's playing and while he brings special qualities to the all-round game, the All Blacks need another goal-kicking option.

Rather than remove Beauden from the No 10 jersey to accommodate Aaron Cruden, they've called on Jordie who has been averaging over 80pc this season, but has never known the kind of pressure and atmosphere he'll experience on Saturday.

"Jordie's pretty special," his Hurricanes coach Jason Holland said. "I haven't had this chat with Jordie lately, but I'm still convinced he's a midfielder. His skill-set is phenomenal. He has this thing in Captain's Run, he kicks goals and sees how far he can kick it from. He consistently nails goals from 62, 63 metres. It's unbelievable.

"He's still learning, Jordie, he still makes some average decisions which is understandable for a 19-year-old, but he's from the same stock as Beaudy. They're driven, intelligent boys." Contrast the lack of experienced kicking options with the Lions where Owen Farrell holds the tee currently, but Warren Gatland can call on the primary goal-kickers from each of the four countries represented, while Elliot Daly, Dan Biggar and Liam Williams have all got a boot on them.

Farrell has missed some kicks over the course of the tour, but he held his nerve well in Wellington when the pressure was on.

If the crucial kick falls out of his range, he can turn to Daly and while Jordie Barrett also has long-range in his arsenal, the England wing has delivered on the big stage.

"He's scary, isn't he?" kicking coach Neil Jenkins said yesterday.

"He's got a cannon attached to his hip. I punt with him in the warm-up before the game and he is tapping the ball and it is going 50 metres.

"He was kicking on Saturday and they will flying past at 55 metres and he wasn't even letting go. His goal-kicking is the same.

"It's not easy if you are kicking from 50-odd metres because there are a lot of variables but he hits the ball incredibly well. He's a weapon to have in any team.

"For these boys I have no doubt they will step up and nail the kick. They are human.

"They are going to miss on the odd occasion, but under pressure, I'd certainly back them."

If it comes down to it, the Lions will back their kickers to deliver. New Zealand fans may not be so sure.

Irish Independent

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