In fact, when Neil came on in the second half of our game against Australia two weeks ago I considered surrendering the job immediately. But I'd kicked three penalties by then and felt my eye was in. He'd been sitting on the bench for an hour and the two kicks that came later were well within my range so I stuck with it. I'm better at passing the ball than I am at passing the buck.
Goal-kicking is not a job to be trifled with. It is the most thankless task on the park and, no matter how good you are at it, each kick is a fresh trial. It is undoubtedly an art and one which improves with practice. It comes naturally to me, although I do find the practice tedious.
The five I scored against Australia on my comeback were more than I scored in all the 27 internationals I'd played before going north in 1989. This wasn't due to any inaccuracy - I just didn't take them. Paul Thorburn was in his heyday then and, in any case, I wasn't regarded as a goal-kicker. When I was a boy, I was interested only in running with the ball and it wasn't until I joined Llanelli in 1987 that I even took them at club level.
When I joined Widnes, they expected me to do the goal-kicking and I didn't argue. I went on to score almost 2,000 points with my boot in league but I still don't regard myself as a specialist kicker. On my day I'll match most,but I recognise that others are better, especially from long range.
Frano Botica is similar. I would put him up in Neil's class but, like me, Frano is better from 40 metres or less. Neil's strength is a much longer range. Frano wasn't rated a kicker when he followed me into league but he became deadly for Wigan. I set a new record for scoring the fastest 1,000 points in league history... and Frano broke it.
Kicking is the same in league and union. The differences are when you go for the posts. You tend to go for goal more in league because even if you miss and the ball carries over the dead-ball line, you get possession back because they have to drop out from under the crossbar. But if your kick is short you commit the unforgiveable sin of giving possession away so you don't go from long range unless you are sure you can carry the back line.
It's a nervy job in either code - a bit like putting in golf. Just as a two-foot putt can be a problem even to Nick Faldo, a 15-yarder in front of the posts can be a swine - and Faldo doesn't have 30,000 screaming at him to miss it.
I've scored some very satisfying tries in my career but while the crowd are going wild and my team-mates celebrating, my first reaction is to start worrying about the conversion. If you miss a couple it can affect the rest of your game. This is why I haven't envied Mike Catt. Settling in as England's outside-half would have been much easier if someone had been taking the kicking burden from him.
I can promise I won't be jealous when Neil kicks at goal today. South Africa are going to be a bigger problem than the Australians. I admire the way they've recovered from losing the Test series against New Zealand, adding a quicker back-row to a very solid front five. We're facing a team that has just beaten France twice.
Wales could hardly have faced two tougher Tests within a fortnight but you don't improve by avoiding the big challenges. I'm sure we will emerge in better shape for the Five Nations and are under no illusions of what we must aspire to in the future.Reuse content