Boosted boot: Greig Laidlaw has missed one kick in the RBS 6 Nations. Is this indicative of improving standards?

By Alan Dymock

ACCORDING TO one of the games most legendary kickers, the standard of place kicking “is higher now than ever.”

Points machine: Jonny Wilkinson

Neil Jenkins, former Pontypridd, Wales and Lions kicker has today spoken out about the standard of goal kickers in World rugby at the moment, citing the reliability that is expected of international nudgers.

“Most people are quite surprised now if a kicker misses maybe more than two or three at goal,” he said. “They are either 100% or just have the odd miss in games. It is pretty spectacular at the minute in terms of the kickers we’ve got in the game.”

Looking at the breakdown, though, is he right: have kickers improved over the years?

RBS 6 Nations

The basis of Jenkins’ argument comes from looking at the current 6 Nations Championship.

Jonathan Sexton has 100% from the tee in this year’s competition, landing all six of his shots at goal. However he has only landed six, while Owen Farrell is the most prolific punter, having landed 15 of his conversions and penalties.

The ice-cold Englishman is not the most accurate, though, despite all of his scores. He has missed five of his 20 kicks and so has a kick percentage of 75%, the same as Freddie Michalak (six from eight).

Telling, isn’t it? Farrell has the same percentage as Michalak, but he has 15 kicks to Freddie’s six. One is leading the tournament despite misses because they take a lot of chances and earn the points. The other has not had a say in the games.

This said, another assumption made by Jenkins – that kickers influence the outcome of games; “More often than not it’s the difference between winning and losing games” – is arguably correct. Greig Laidlaw and Leigh Halfpenny have both landed 13 kicks that have helped seal the outcome of games for their respective countries, with Laidlaw having an accuracy rate of 92.86% and Halfpenny enjoying 86.67%.

In the leagues

It isn’t all about the grand spectacles, though. Once you acknowledge that the sheer number of points can win games, rather than percentages, it then becomes obvious why some club teams are winning the arms race.

In France, Jonny Wilkinson is pumping Toulon to the top of the table with his boot. He has landed a staggering 94 penalties and conversions this season, which, when added to drop goals, means he has already amassed an unbelievable 267 points himself. Putting those points into context, that is more than Sale Sharks have managed this term.

Hot on Wilko’s heels is Castres’ want-away scrum-half Rory Kockott, who has 86 place kicks to his name. James Hook also features highly in the club game, despite not being anywhere near starting or kicking for Wales, clipping over 70 place kicks for Perpignan.

Looking at the Top 14 the game is either played like a back-alley brawl, with penalties being handed out every other second, or the range and expertise of the kickers playing means that they are trusted to take points rather than going for the corner. Percentages be damned: it’s a numbers game.

The Premiership's best: Nick Evans currently tops the table

The trend continues. In England, Nick Evans is the top marksman with 68 conversions and penalties. Compared to ye olde times (amateur days) his percentage of 77.27% is top-notch. Nevertheless, it could be said that his volume of work is more stunning. Freddie Burns comes just in behind with 64 (81.01%) and Andy Goode has 62 (74.7%).

Tom Prydie is the RaboDirect Pro12’s top kicker, with 40 successful kicks. This edges him ahead of Ian Madigan and Ian Keatley, with 38 and 37 kicks respectively, both with percentages in the 80 per cents. Good numbers, but not comparable with astronomical French figures.

So Jenkins may be right. Kickers are possibly better. Yet it could just be that in the big games players get more shots at the sticks. Even then, though, it is possibly that we are just making a bigger deal out of those doing the kicking. After all, no one has ever topped Tim Stimpson in a single season in England –he kicked 115 times for Leeds Tykes in 2000 – but the likes of Wilkinson have hoovered up points over an entire career.

With kicking, good things come to those who wait.