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Nick McCashin

Nick McCashin is a former Bay of Plenty representative who has played professionally in England, France and Spain. Nick is currently playing and coaching in Scotland where he is writing and developing content for www.prorugbyclub.com to help players excel on and off the field.

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OPINION: How to master goal kicking

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Nick McCashin     11 Jan 2017     Getty Images

He systematically goes through his routine and strokes the ball through the posts with ease. On the rare occasion that it does miss it might hit the upright.

We have occasionally watched professional games and the kicker has had an absolute shocker. He has kicked goals like he was on the golf course. Shanking it, slicing it left, then over correcting and hooking it right. Sometimes the ball falls off the tee mid-way through your run up and you grubber it along the ground. 

OPINION: WHY ARE THE ALL BLACKS SO GOOD?

We admire professional players who kick goals as they must be brave to step up for the team and nail the penalty or conversion that will determine the game. The result can brand you as the hero or the loser. I know what it is like to be on both ends of that final kick. Most goal kickers know that misses hurt like hell.

The Statistics of Professional Rugby Goal Kickers
Firstly let us take a look at the stats. If you are like me you will want to see the evidence of why goal kicking is so important in rugby today. When analysing a kick it is important to understand what makes a difficult kick.

In the professional game the difficulty of a kick is based on a number of factors:
- distance of the kick
- angle of the kick
- altitude
- side of field and foot used
- score difference to indicate pressure,
- home/away
- 1st half/2nd half

Other factors that need to be considered from a goal kickers perspective are:
- Wind and weather
- External pressures such as crowd
- previous tasks in the game the kicker has completed prior to the kick. For example getting a soft tissue injury in the leg, running a long distance or clearing a load of rucks.

However when it comes down to the most basic measure and the most important we look at percentage of successful goals. It doesn’t matter what happens before the kick or how it goes over as long as it goes over. For the purpose of this article that is what we will look at.

Goal Kicking at the 2015 Rugby World Cup Percentages (Source: www.goalkickers.co.za)

Theuns Kotzé, Namibia - 92% (12/13)
Dan Biggar, Wales - 90% (19/21)
Nicolás Sánchez, Argentina - 89% (33/37)
Owen Farrell, England - 89% (16/18)
Morgan Parra, France - 89% (8/9)
Tommaso Allan, Italy - 88% (15/17)
Rhys Priestland, Wales - 88% (7/8)
Greig Laidlaw, Scotland - 83% (29/35)
Frédéric Michalak, France - 81% (13/16)
Bernard Foley, Australia - 80% (28/35)
Dan Carter, New Zealand - 80% (32/40)
Nemani Nadolo, Fiji - 77% (10/13)
Jonathan Sexton, Ireland - 77% (10/13)

It is important to note those players who are the best across the season as this is a more accurate data set when it comes to consistency.

Top Goal Kickers of 2016 who had over 20 attempts

Greig Laidlaw, Scotland - 85.5% (47 out of 55)
Dan Biggar, Wales - 85.7% (30 out of 35)
Nicolás Sánchez, Argentina - 79.2% (99 out of 125)
Paddy Jackson, Ireland -87.1% (27 out of 31)
Owen Farrell, England - 79.5% (70 out of 88)

Improving as a goal kicker
It is not about kicking yourself when you have missed. It is not about changing your technique every practice. It is not about forcing yourself to try harder or practice longer. There is a need to practice but practice the right way. Perfect practice makes permanent. Not the traditional practice makes permanent. 

Where to start with rugby goal kicking
Ball and posts are going to be the same or similar every time. Sometimes you have to kick with a ball that is pumped up to extremes or is rock hard but most of the time it will be the same. How can you make you set up exactly the same every time? In your initial setup, you want the ball the be the same so you control this part of the kick every time. A good way to test the setup is to take five kicks of the ball at 5 different set up positions. Video recording them can help you see what happens to the ball and what might be best for your kicking technique. Personally I like the ball slightly tilted forward and upfront. I use a small green Dan Carter tee and I always have the valve pointed towards the post.

Study the professionals
Look at kickers who you admire and asked a few questions. Why are they the best? What is the same every time? We are the similarities of kickers? What are the main parts of the kick? Seek advice from a goal kicker if you can get in touch. Or look to speak with an experienced coach to help you. I used a coach at a certain point in my career which really helped me keep focused and improve my percentage (Thanks Dave Mays).

The fundamentals of rugby goal kicking
To make is easy for anyone reading this I have broken the skill down for you to help with your success. (based on my kicking style). If you get these fundamentals right you will quickly be on your way to kicking five from five.
1: The Set Up
Every goal kicker will have their own unique set up which will suit their style and action. A good tip here is to line the ball up with the seam and valve facing away from you and towards the goal. Having the seam and valve away from you helps with consistency as the inside of the ball is different around the valve.

Some players like to have the ball slightly tilted to one side to combat the natural curve you produce after the kick and the pivot of the hip. The tee choice is merely a preference for the setup and individual. For example the tee is used if the player wants the ball set higher, lower or to stand upright or to lean it further forward. My personal preference is to have the ball slightly tilted forward and away from me. I use a low set kicking tee as when I was younger I learnt to kick off a crow’s nest made from the grass or sand.

2: The Run Up
Now every player has a unique style before his run up and a classic example of this is Jonny Wilkinson. He adopts a powerful stance elbows tucked in and hands held together almost as if he was praying before he kicks. A lot of these physical movements are simply to get the body and mind ready for the kick. More often than not the kicker would kick through the ball from a 45 degree angle. He can use as many steps as he likes to help get the timing right. Notice in the photo below angles to the post. (I aim with my right eye so set up with right eye in line with the ball)

3: Opposite Foot Placement
The opposite foot should always be placed directly alongside the ball about a half a foot. The angle of this foot should always be pointing in the direction of the posts. Angled out it would go left and angled in it would go right. Having the foot placement to far forward with decrease your power and having it too far back with make you kick further up the ball with less accuracy.
4: The Sweet Spot
The kicking leg should always connect with the same point on the ball. Normally it is around a 1/3 the way up from the base of the ball along the seam. Depending on your setup this can change.

5: Shoulder and Head
If the kicker was a right footer his left shoulder and head should always be over the ball in a powerful position and his head down eyes fixed on the strike. A good tip here is to imagine the ball is glass and as you are over the ball you should be able to look through it to see you foot strike. The opposite for a left footer.

6: The Follow Through
After the strike every goal kicker needs to follow through the line of the ball. This helps accuracy, consistency and power. Some players however to fall away to the side of the ball instead of in front of the ball. If you swing through the ball and finish in front more often than not you would achieve greater distance and a higher level of accuracy than those that fall away to the side.

Notice in the below photo of Aaron Cruden that the finish is past the tee and through the ball. Hips are facing towards the posts and where he wants the ball to go. 
Why should I do this?
Following the basics of goal kicking you can improve your technique dramatically. There are lots of others things you need to get right which include the way you practice and mindset. If you are a kicker everything has to be positive. Regardless whether you miss or slot the kick, each kick you learn what worked well and what didn’t. When we break the skill down into 6 key points we can focus on improving each step which will help you with your consistency and accuracy. Practicing and evaluating only six things after each kick will allow you to critique the part that was not performed so well and you can improve it for the next kick with being too overwhelmed.

Mastery of the fundamentals can improve your kicking from 50-70% in the season to 70-80%. Combined with the right mindset and practice there is no reason why you cannot achieve 80% or higher in your game. Continue to focus on improving and getting better with each training session. Practice at every opportunity prior to training or after even if it is only 5 to 10 mins. In our experience limiting the amount of kicks to 20 gives us a goal and an end point. During practice you should always finish on a good kick so that we internalise the correct technique. Five minutes prior to your game is always beneficial to get the body primed.

The good news
All kicking techniques can be learnt and passed onto other players. Some players think they can kick but in reality they cannot kick to save themselves. We believe anyone can learn to kick in a short space of time with the right frame work and be successful on the paddock.

Strength and Conditioning training for rugby goal kickers
To improve your goal kicking do not skip leg day. Seriously strengthening the legs can help with correct muscle function, kicking technique and power in your goal kicking. While you cannot go past the basics such as the squat or the dumbbell walking lunge here are our favourite exercises in the gym or weight room to help improve your goal kicking.

Exercises to incorporate into your program

Torture Twist- Great for Building core strength
Superman or any Quadraped exercise – helps core strength and minimise instability
Rotational Squat – Very good for that twisting motion similar to a kick. Helps you develop power around the hip.
Single Leg Squat – Good for strength and balance in the kick giving you more distance
Single Leg Deadlift. – Helps strengthen hamstrings and balance to avoid injury.
Clams – It is important to have strong glutes and that includes the smaller glute muscles.
Single leg balance work - Eyes closed for 30 seconds - 1 minute
Always incorporate a good warm up and warm down in your training sessions as it will help reduce the risk of injury.

Rugby Goal Kicking Drills

Kicking along the try line from the touchline at a single goal post helps a goal kicker work purely on the fundamentals of the kick and the flight of the ball from the kicking tee. Learning how to master your technique and the fundamentals so you can accurately and consistently kick straight. When you can hit the single post time and again you are on the right track. By focusing on the kick and not the final result can help you stay present within the kick and perform better on the field.

If you are having trouble with your power or follow through here is a good drill. Prior to your kick mark the ground in front of your tee as to where you would like to finish your kick. Focus on kicking through the ball and not worrying so much about the result. The idea is to practice finishing on your mark ahead of the tee.

If you are having trouble with your connection and sweet spot here is a good tip. Once you understand your sweet spot depending on your kicking style and ball set up mark the ball with a permanent marker. Drawing a black circle on the ball with help you hit the mark every time with more consistency.

Testing your goal kicking under pressure
As a goal kicker it is always good to test yourself in mini competitions after your team practice. If you are alone try to create scenarios in your mind and certain kicks you might have to kick in the future. For example the World Cup final winning conversion. By doing this in your mind if you ever get the the World Cup and you have that kick to win the game you will be confident you have kicked it over a hundred times in practice.

If your team has finished training it is always good to have a kicking competition. Some of the forwards will love this. It is hard to replicate the same pressure you have in a game so kicking with team mates or friends can help apply a little extra pressure. To make it even more interesting I recommend adding stakes. The winner of the competition gets beer, chocolate bars or money.

To win these competitions as a kicker you need to have done the work and trust your ability. Good luck with your future success and hustling your team mates.

If you enjoyed this article please find more information atwww.prorugbyclub.com