There has been much analysis and deliberation from the opening 2013 Bledisloe Cup encounter since the weekend, almost too much. Certainly the loss wasn’t, in my opinion, as severe as the scoreline. My initial plan was to provide for you an insight into the strategy, execution or analysis of key kicking moments from the Test.
Well, I decided instead to give you an overall comparative breakdown of the kicking techniques of the Wallabies’ Christian Leali’ifano and All Black Aaron Cruden.
So it brings me to what was meant to be perhaps a showdown of contrasting kicking styles from the tee last Saturday night. Depending on the penalty count, maybe even a shootout? It wasn’t. But it was a Bledisloe Cup encounter between the sharpshooters of the Super Rugby Final 2013 of only a couple of weeks back. Both Aaron Cruden and Christian Leali’ifano have suffered the yips of late and I watched this Test with much anticipation. Clearly Cruden, along with Kicking Coach Mick Byrne, had worked on critical aspects from that match.
Place Kicking Technique: Christian Leali’ifano Vs Aaron Cruden
Approach from Gather (Ready) Position
Arrival at Tee
Both players choose an approximate 45 degree angle of approach & and arrival at tee, although Aaron on occasions will lock in the support foot a little further away than Christian. Too close and you’re cramped, too far and you’re reaching. Christian appears to have superior foot speed at contact, potentially delivering more power.
The first thing to analyse in the process is contact quality. Aaron contacts with a very pronounced open foot, certainly more than that of his Wallabies counterpart. I have seen, as in the Super Rugby Final 2013 Aaron contact very far back inside his foot drawing the ball left. Christian tends to wrap his foot wide on the ball, risking kicking outside the line (sweet spot). This can be evident from his right to left ball flight on occasions.
At this stage it may appear Lealiifano has (in my opinion) a more reliable kicking technique, but this is where things get interesting!
Here is where kicking with a well developed system and more compact technique will deliver results.
Aaron’s leg swing generally runs a true line from being parked behind the body, through to follow through, while Christian has more of an “around” leg swing. No right or wrong here but an around swing requires the body to counter some of those movements to protect ball flight. Christian is very good at working with his natural leg swing to control ball flight, but I will soon discuss an aspect of his technique that will help prevent variation.
Aaron’s posture at contact is certainly more balanced, and is evidenced by comparing how both finish up after follow through. Aaron usually in the channel to target, while Christian often readjusting to the left of where the contact took place. We did see a couple of week’s back, Aaron kicked with his support foot anchored to the ground at contact, causing rotation through the kick.
The reason for this is simple. Christian kicks with the left side of his body rather open, with very little engagement from the leading shoulder. This can cause a player to rotate around the kick. In this case to the left. In extreme cases, some players will be seen to fall away. This is a big reason his flight is curved.
On the other hand Aaron closes off his non-kicking side of the body with his left shoulder, something I am very conscious of when coaching sound technique. This allows for better transfer of weight through (“down the channel”) to the target. This is a big reason his flight is generally straighter with a more vertical ball spin. This is removed, however, the moment he forces himself through the kick. The Super Rugby Final showed a very pronounced lean forward (head first) which affected his process. Both kickers look comfortable when they relax and trust.
Christian appears often to “switch off” his kick very early in the process, highlighted by a short follow through. I would love to see him drive through the contact and beyond. Aaron continues to keep his system switched on, often releasing with a few short “braced” steps in the direction of the goals.
So who has the better technique?
Well, they are both very accomplished kickers by right with contrasting styles. It’s important as coaches and critics that we allow players to express their own style, whilst maintaining a commitment to base technical fundamentals.
I’ve heard it said many times over that “any kick that gets 3 points is a good kick.” Now while that may be true in the context of any match, it is the player that develops a reliable system and process that will become the value add to their team.
Having said that, the winner is All Black Aaron Cruden, for a technique that I believe is more likely to sustain the rigours of form fluctuations. Everyone is a good kicker when things are going well. A Specialist Kicking Coach’s job is to provide a player with the necessary tools to place in the kit bag for use when needed. Aaaron certainly sharpened his since the last time we saw him kick.
So about Christian; a brilliant Super Rugby season amassing over 200 points for the Brumbies. I enjoy watching him kick and know that he also works very hard on his consistency, and it shows!
By Stuart Lierich – “Specialist Kicking Coach”