• Boks must kick into gear

    The Springboks’ kick execution has to be vastly improved if they hope to end a three-match losing streak in this Saturday’s Test against the Wallabies at Loftus, writes CRAIG LEWIS in Johannesburg.

    There has been a familiar face at Springbok training this week, with kicking guru Louis Koen slipping into camp as the team prepares for their penultimate clash in the Rugby Championship.

    After a run of poor results on the road that have served to turn up the pressure on a new-look coaching staff and team, the Boks have the benefit of at least returning to a happy grounding at Loftus, where they have never lost to the Wallabies.

    Yet, it was very revealing to note that when Allister Coetzee held his first team meeting at the start of the week, he wasted no time in drawing the players’ attention to repeatedly poor kicking displays that have certainly done the Boks a disservice this season.

    Indeed, a look at the statistics certainly reveals a telling story. In total, over the course of the Rugby Championship, the Boks have completed 101 kicks from hand, which has been the most of any team in the competition.

    Most notably, though, in the Boks' most recent game against the All Blacks in Christchurch, it's particularly significant to note that while they kicked 21 times – two less than their opponents – the Kiwis could collect 19 of those.

    On just two occasions were the Boks able to find turf with a kick into space, with poor kicks far more often feeding the All Blacks with possession, and allowing the most dangerous back three in world rugby to launch counter-attacks from deep.

    And whereas the All Blacks were able to field 19 kicks, the Boks could only collect 11, despite the fact the Kiwis put boot to ball on 23 occasions.

    Again, it was the All Blacks’ halfback duo of Aaron Smith and Beauden Barrett that controlled that aspect of the game (making 15 of the 23 kicks between them), with their decision-making and accuracy when kicking in sharp contrast to that of their Bok counterparts.

    The Boks’ struggles with their kicking game has been a problem that has repeatedly reared its head this season, and which quite possibly cost them victory against the Wallabies in Brisbane earlier this month.

    On that occasion, the Boks made two more kicks out of hand than the Wallabies (29 to 27), but again, the Aussies were able to collect 21 of those, as opposed to just 12 caught by the Boks.

    Most glaringly, though, Israel Folau caught seven of those 21 kicks, with the Boks making the costly error of repeatedly kicking on the Wallabies star, who is undoubtedly the best aerial fullback in world rugby.

    There is no doubt that the Springboks would have identified their kicking flaws, but one wonders if there has been enough time for Koen and the coaches to ensure their plans can be better executed on Saturday.

    Undoubtedly, it is also one of the reasons Morné Steyn is expected to come into the Bok starting lineup at the expense of erratic Elton Jantjies, and the veteran flyhalf should certainly shore up some of the team’s kicking problems, both at goal and from hand.

    This week, Coetzee acknowledged that their kicking game had been an aspect that had really let them down.

    ‘The kicking execution just hasn’t been good enough. When I started my meeting [on Monday], I showed the players it was one area where we really aren’t dominating, with ineffective kicking putting our defence under massive stress. And when we played against Australia last time, poor kick execution brought Folau into the game and put us under pressure. I don’t think it was a fundamental problem, but just a matter of inaccurate execution, so we have to get that right on Saturday.’

    Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix

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    Craig Lewis