In light of the fact that South Africa won a few World Cup rugby tournaments with a string of good kicks, rugby experts say that a skilled kicker can make or break a World Cup.
Despite some erratic performances behind the kick, these experts also believe that Manie Libbok can stand his ground during this year’s World Cup rugby tournament in France.
The 26-year-old Humansdorp native was on target with all five of his set-piece attempts at Twickenham this past weekend and he drove the ball over the crossbar from right in front of the posts, as well as from near the touchline.
Libbok is at its attacking best when the Springbok forwards (as now against the All Blacks) take care of forward football possession. He’s creative, while his passing often puts his opponents under pressure.
“I think Libbok learned good lessons in the last few tests. He is overall a very consistent kicker and he would have realized by now that he should not over think things just because he is wearing a Bok jersey. I think he will be good in the World Cup,” André Pretorius told RNews.
The former flyhalf, who scored 171 points for the Springboks with his characteristic sly look at the posts, believes that a reliable set-kicker is a must for a World Cup tournament.
Consider, for example, Joel Stransky’s drop-kick heroics in 1995 against the All Blacks, Percy Montgomery’s accuracy in 2007 and Handré Pollard’s 22 points in the 2019 final and the winning penalty against the Red Dragons in the semi-final.
“Matches may not be won with kicks every single time, but it can cost you the game if three or four attempts go wrong.”
The experienced Pollard did not recover from his calf injury in time for the World Cup, but is on standby if one of the Springboks suffers an injury. This week, Leicester Tigers shared photos of the fly-half sweating on the training ground in England – without any bandage or patch on his leg.
“We will always miss him (Pollard) because he fits in well with South Africa’s way of playing,” says Pretorius.
Still, former Springbok and Bulls flyhalf Morné Steyn agrees with Pretorius that Libbok should be able to stand his ground in France.
“Manie has now shown that he can do it. He kicked well for the Stormers (in the United Rugby Championship) and his performance against the All Blacks underlined his ability to drive the ball over the crossbar at a good strike rate.”
A kicker must be able to handle the pressure
Vlok Cilliers is the Roosters’ kicking coach these days and he already mentioned in a previous interview that kicking can play a decisive role in the upcoming rugby spectacle.
In France, moreover, many of the matches are only decided at 21:00 when wind and weather can also have an influence on a kicker’s accuracy.
“A set-piece kicker must undoubtedly have the ability to handle pressure and work hard when his level of play is not up to standard. He must believe in himself and know that he will come out on the other side,” Cilliers said from France.
Pretorius himself played behind the kick in a few World Cup matches in 2007.
“The pressure is extremely high, because every game can either take you closer to the next round or take you further away. However, you have to do your best not to focus on that when you’re on the field, because then you’re only going to think about the possible outcome; something that will affect your process before every kick.”
However, experts agree that hard work and good preparation are the keys to success.
“It certainly gives one a lot of self-confidence. At the same time, you must also remind yourself to enjoy it while you have the privilege of playing in a World Cup tournament. Maybe there is only one such opportunity in your career,” concluded Pretorius.
Steyn was known for his excellent preparation work in his career. At the time, together with Cilliers – when he was the Bulls’ kicking guru – Loftus Versfeld was honed on his kicking skills until late.
“You have to put yourself under pressure during training sessions, then during a match you can focus on the things you worked on all week. The harder you work beforehand, the easier the game is.”