the study of the kicking components within sports

Friday, February 1, 2013

RBS 6 Nations: The Kickers - 2013


UPDATE: new link to all Rugby Kicking News

American football reaches it's annual pinnacle this weekend with the spectacle known as the Super Bowl. One of the games ancestors, rugby, is also in the spotlight this weekend as the Six Nations Championship kicks off. Like football, rugby diminished but did not eliminate the element of kicking. The feet of the following players could play a significant role in this year's tournament.

Owen Farrell, England
"The snow is falling, the mercury has plummeted to minus five and the sun is going behind the frosted trees. Owen Farrell lines up the ball on the tee, pinpoints a target in the distance and, from one step back and three to the side, swings the most accurate boot in rugby union. Rain or shine, this has been Farrell’s life since as far back as he can remember. The work ethic he learned as a boy practising with his dad, Andy, the dead-eye kicker and captain of a local religion called Wigan Rugby League Football Club, persists along with those blunt northern vowels. Our flat-cap hero is now at Saracens and expected to start at fly-half for England’s opening Six Nations match against Scotland a week on Saturday, but the old verities of another world persist. He lives at home with mum and dad. He has no more than the occasional beer. He talks rugby endlessly with the old man. His favourite meal is shepherd’s pie. He eschews speculation about selection for this summer’s Lions tour on the basis he does not want to lose focus on the here and now. He refrains from celebrity froth.... ‘I do get nervous, maybe for the first kick of the game. It is gutting if you miss and it has an effect on the result. But next day you go out and put it right. When you are in a rhythm it is great. A lot of little things go into making the rhythm right. You string a few kicks together, you strike the ball well within a game or a training session, and you feel like you can’t miss. When you’re in that place, it’s perfect,’ he says."
"In Morgan Parra and François Trinh-Duc (46 and 44 caps respectively), who both started their careers against Scotland in Edinburgh in 2008, France looked to have inherited a settled and eminently respectable half-back pairing. But, just as he has shown no hesitation in replacing Dusautoir as captain, Saint-André has deliberately taken bold steps to inject some much-needed pace and skill to the vital strategic zone known to the French as “la charnière” (the hinge). The newcomer Machenaud won his first cap in the 49-10 upset win against Argentina in Tucuman last June, and backed that up with an outstanding display in les Bleus’ 33-6 thrashing of Australia at Stade de France in November. With only four caps to his name, blessed with a lightning fast delivery from the base of the scrum, added to a high work-rate in defence and an ability to breach the opposition line close to the ruck, he is now considered first choice in France’s No.9 jersey. But, if Machenaud has suddenly become a vital cog in Saint-André’s system, it is also because he has been paired with the re-born “Freddie” Michalak. The 30-year-old Michalak needs little introduction, as his colourful career already spans more than a decade. Since he first burst on the scene as an 18-year-old in 2001, with a match-winning performance for Toulouse in the French club final, however, Michalak’s career has seen more changes of direction than a boy-racer lane-swapping on the ‘boulevard périphérique’."
"Jonathan Davies expects Ospreys' Dan Biggar to fill Wales' vacant fly-half berth against Ireland. The former Wales captain and fly-half believes Biggar will be selected ahead of James Hook for the Six Nations opener. Wales open their defence of their 2012 Grand Slam against Ireland at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday, 2 February. 'They will definitely go with Dan Biggar,' said Davies. Wales need a new fly-half for the 2013 Six Nations, with the Scarlets' Rhys Priestland ruled out of the tournament with an injured achilles tendon. Biggar and Hook are the only two genuine fly-halves selected by Wales interim coach Rob Howley in his 35-man squad. Davies, speaking on BBC Wales' Scrum V show, claims Biggar is the form fly-half in Wales so far this season and he deserves his chance against the Irish. Hook scored 18 points in the Catalans' 26-19 victory over Clermont on Friday evening. 'They will definitely go with Dan Biggar because he has been the form player, but can he bring that regional form to international level?' said Davies. That's a big test for Dan but he is a confident player'."
"Announcing their 30-man squad to take on the Six Nations last week for Italy represents a statement of intent, following last year’s successful last-day defeat of Scotland. In the past decade they have never finished above 5th, but the squad they have named consists of several household names in both France and England, and the experience the vast majority of the squad holds can only be a positive for Coach Jacques Brunel. A second positive is that despite heavy defeats in the Autumn to New Zealand and Australia, the calibre of performance by the Azzuri and in particular Luciano Orquera at fly-half."
Jonathan Sexton, Ireland
"The 27-year-old fly-half, who is set to play a key role for Ireland during the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations, turned down a new contract with the IRFU last week, paving a way for a move abroad. But head coach Declan Kidney still expects Sexton to be a fundamental part of his Ireland side, even if he is not based in the Emerald Isle. 'Jonny would be a very proud Irishman, Leinsterman, St Mary’s man and I don’t think that’s ever going to change,' Kidney told the Irish Examiner. 'He’s playing for Ireland as long as he’s maintaining the standards he’s been playing at and I’d see him being able to develop even more because he’s probably just coming into his prime and I shouldn’t see that that should affect his international career. It will put a bit more pressure on travelling and access to him and will open the door to other fellas to showcase themselves at home as well. We live in a professional age, everybody has to make decisions, the players, IRFU, clubs, provinces, and I respect that. That’s the age we live in'."
Greig Laidlaw, Scotland
"But what was clear from interim head coach Scott Johnson, as he explained his first training squad selection and spoke of being in “a people business”, was that he believes success for Scotland will be determined as much by players’ desire and character as by their skills. He has made calls already that show him to have some differing thoughts to the man he has replaced. Laidlaw, for example, is now among the scrum-halves, and likely to be first-choice, with Tom Heathcote and Ruaridh Jackson leading the fight for the stand-off berth and Duncan Weir pushing hard. 'I made a decision with Greig which I think is fair for him going forward, that he’s more now a nine/ten rather than a ten/nine,' said Johnson. 'He gives you something that other nines don’t; he’s got drive, is competitive and has everything you want from a rugby player. Trying to find the best position for him is what we’re doing, and I think nine is probably the best fit for him'."

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