Over the course of the 2017 Super Rugby season, a re-emphasis has been made on a kicking weapon. Used for decades by wily first-fives and outside backs but as the highlights packages show, one team, and essentially one player is executing the perfect cross-field kick in rugby with more precision than most.
Beauden Barrett, and many New Zealand rugby players are more and more using this tactic to quickly spread the ball wide. Some only on occasion, but it has to be agreed that the Hurricanes have had fantastic success with it.
Over the 2017 season [so far] the Hurricanes have scored 63 tries. Over nine matches = seven tries on average, and that attack makes them potentially the highest scoring side over the course of a single season – 577 points, Lions 2016. That is in part thanks to the direction, and attacking options made by the ‘Canes backline; with Beauden Barrett at number ten.
It is the ability to see space, communicate with players and then executing the perfect cross-field kick which is setting the ‘Canes apart. They are not the first, and they are not going to be the last. What that team are doing is in it’s application.
Example: Hurricanes 41 Stormers 22
On Friday night, the local team had a real challenge on their hands. The Stormers had been pounded in their two games already, so brought a lot more venom to this encounter. Their commitment was commendable, that is until several examples of perfectly executed kicks affected the outcome.
Beauden Barrett had the ‘ball on a string’ with the opening try. Directed perfectly out to his right wing, where Cory Jane gladly accepted another Super Rugby try. Then an incredible bounce of the ball and sublime skills from brother Jordie (see main picture) saw him steal a ball out of Nizaam Carr’s hands. The brothers countering each others huge range of skills.
— Rory Keane (@RoryPKeane) May 5, 2017
The second to last try was a superb example of how it can release pressure. Under a real threat on their own goal line. Barrett sensed space was available to the left. He hit his targeted player–Julian Savea. The Bus then did the rest, in belting up the sideline. His run was followed up by support play from Ngani Laumape, and the relief valve was set open.
Example: Hurricanes 56 Brumbies 21
The below try was a near perfect example from Beauden to set-up his second-five. In terms of how it occurs, the communication must be a well practiced training ground move. From set-piece play, it will be an organised move.
Deft Touch From Barrett to Laumape Perfectly Executed
— EatSleepRugby (@eatsleeprugby) April 22, 2017
The freedom to use it is a sign of how confident the team is playing, and it shows more and more in the regularity.
Example: Blues 24 Hurricanes 28
It was not as prevalent in this match, as the little chip-and-chase option early, played exactly into his own arms. In a closely fought local derby game, the pressure was on. With the hosts performing strongly, the ‘tool was kept in the bag’. But when the cross-field kick is pulled off, it looks slick.
On this night, the need to pull it out came late, and it was directed to a waiting tight forward. As Barrett has done with any player wearing any number, he hit his target. The breakdown was then a crucial area. Here, brilliant work from Jordie opened a path for Mark Abbott to score his second try.
So the kick is not always a finishing move, and here it’s use is more established. Used by quality first-fives like Carlos Spencer, Andrew Merhtens and Dan Carter. But the frequency now has increased to the point that executing the perfect cross-field kick in rugby can result in a game winning try.
Use Today has Increased, as it is the Perfect Weapon
If the kicker hits the target–a moving target at that–so too it gets the applause of fans of rugby, and of all ball sports. So whether it is a rugby union, rugby league, or even Australian Rules, the execution needs to be spot on.
Some may point to the introduction of Mick Byrne into the All Blacks environment. His role was to assist the outside backs in receiving high balls. As a benefit, not only has the high ball been used as a ‘weapon of choice’ but the running kick is a benefit to NZ rugby. Similarly to how the sideline kick now appears to be taken in a static position, the soft touch kicking style is evident in Beauden Barrett, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Cruden and Richie Mo’unga.
With the upcoming British and Irish Lions series, the tourist will be wary of the tactic. Used against Wales and others in 2016, it should be brought ‘out of the bag’ at some time. And that could be from either side, as the trend today is being seen in Southern Hemisphere and in European football. A good ploy, used wisely it can bring huge rewards, so why wouldn’t they.
But more so, the Barrett men are making the cross-field kick a ‘tool of choice’ to get quick, and expertly-directed ball out wide. It is deceiving many defenses and putting doubt in their opponents minds. But most of all, it is putting smiles on fans of the Hurricanes; and of all quality rugby union fans faces.