Rugby Union: Kicking and dreaming: Six of the best reveal the secrets of their radar boots

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The Independent Online
Don Rutherford

England: 1960-67. 14 caps. Footnote: Toe punter; now RFU's technical director. 38pts (Pens: 8; Cons: 6; Tries: 0; Drop goals 0)

NO matter how sound your technique is, for whatever reason, there are days when you can be kicking the ball and it sounds magnificent - you go a lot by sound - and it still scrapes the post. I remember missing a kick in front of the posts when we played New Zealand in 1967. Often you can't go back and correct on that day. The important positioning is the left foot, for a right-footed kicker. It must be on a firm spot, because if it slips you are buggered. Of course, in those days you had to make your mound; there were no kicking tees. And Twickenham was especially difficult. Often the wind was so tricky that the touch flags would point into the centre of the field. We used the Gilbert leather ball, which was great when it was dry but once wet and soggy weighed a ton and changed shape during the game.

Bob Hiller

England: 1968-72. 19 caps. Footnote: Not quite a Mohican but certainly the Last of the Toe Punters; upright, military approach at place kicks. 138pts (33; 12; 3; 2)

THE chief reason for the demise of the toe punter was the change in style of the boots. I used ones with toe caps that were almost square, allowing me better contact with the ball. I used to rub the toe cap of the right boot with sandpaper. I don't know if anyone ever noticed, but when I came out on to the pitch the boot would be virtually white at the front. That was because I wanted to make the surface rough so that I would get a purchase on the ball. But toe punting needed a lot of power. The kickers, like Barry John, who used their instep had a much longer swing and generated equally long kicks without having to be powerfully built. The softer toed boot made toe punting less reliable and painful. I persevered with toe punting even in modern boots, but my toes used to get terribly bruised.

Peter brown

Scotland: 1964-73. 27 caps. Footnote: One of first round-the-corner kickers at top level. 66pts (15; 6; 3; 0)

I DID suffer from the yips, but not continuously. If you are a good goal- kicker it's like golf, some days you just go out, put the ball down and kick the goal; other days you feel you are really working on your technique, but you get there. Then there's the third day when it doesn't matter what you try, you couldn't kick your own backside. My father played football for Scotland so he taught his three sons to kick the ball properly. People talked about my apparently casual approach, but in fact my concentration was intense. It was based on terrific goal- kicking practice. I practised after training and before a match. And in those days I was not the only forward who kicked goals. Wales had Allan Martin and John Taylor, while Peter Larter used to kick for England and France occasionally used Jean-Pierre Bastiat.

ALISTAIR HIGNELL

England: 1975-79. 14 caps. Footnote: Alred's first guinea pig. 46pts (14; 2; 0; 0)

MY worst case of the yips came against France in 1977 at Twickenham. I missed five out of six kicks at goal, and we lost 4-3. But then again, against Wales a year later, a match we lost 9-6, we had a last- minute penalty, struck it beautifully but it missed by about six or seven inches. That was nothing to do with the yips. This was before I met Dave Alred. I had stayed behind to do a bit of kicking practice after training. This shortish, dark-haired bloke offered to kick back at me. The thing was that when he kicked, the ball went up through the lights. I tried to kick further than him, and found I couldn't. We got talking about the science of kicking and he showed me some techniques he used in American football. The most significant factor I learned from Dave was the importance of the follow-through. That keeps everything straight. I put yards on my punting.

Paul Thorburn

Wales 1985-91. 37 caps. Footnote: Holds longest recorded kick in international rugby - 70yd 81/2in. 304pts (70; 43; 2; 0).

I WAS never coached by anybody, even when I was playing for Wales. But that may be the case for most goalkickers, because very few clubs at the age when I was developing had specialist people. I had natural kicking ability and I was kicking in rugby from a very early age. I think all goalkickers get the yips. I've certainly had the yips. And during my career I went through moments of frustration, and I did chop and change my style. You try to get your form back by making slight adjustments to your run- up or your actual kicking style. But I would not say the overall style changes significantly. There are so many outside factors which can affect a kick; weather, wind, ground underfoot, length of grass, different balls, different pressures in balls. I used to take an adaptor around with me and let out air from a ball if I thought it was too hard.

Jonathan callard

England: 1993-95. 5 caps. Footnote: Self taught. Appeared nerveless in landing winning last-minute penalty against Scotland on Five Nations debut. 69pts (21; 3; 0; 0)

AS far as the yips go, as long as you are landing more kicks than you miss then you have a good starting point. International kickers should be looking at an 80 per cent success rate, and when I started Geoff Cooke told me: 'It's got to be 75 per cent and no less.' It's a useful figure to work from. When it goes badly, and it does, then like a golfer, it is not a question of how good your good shots are, but how good your bad shots are. And the thing is, if it is going badly, you have to maintain the same routine that you have always followed, you must not do any more or any less. You have a beautiful car, you just keep it polished. Fundamentally, kicking is an art, not a science. I don't think it is something you can break down and build from scratch, you can't manufacture a goal kicker.

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