Strategic kicking just the way the Canes play

TOBY ROBSON
Last updated 05:00 20/04/2012

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Kick at your peril. The Hurricanes outside backs haven't quite punched a sign into the turf outside their 22m line, but they may as well have during the opening half of the Super Rugby season.

A week after the Crusaders used a kicking barrage to wear down the Stormers, the respective boots of first-five Tom Taylor and second-five Dan Carter have become a focal point ahead of tomorrow night's match at Westpac Stadium.

The question isn't whether they will kick rather than how often they can afford to?

"Every team wants to put pressure on the opposition and that's done through kicking," Hurricanes fullback Andre Taylor said this week.

"If there's a bit of a game of force back going on then it's really the team that finds the weakness in the chase line that ends it."

A number of times this season the Hurricanes have been just that team. Taylor's scorching runs off wings Julian Savea in Auckland, and Cory Jane in Perth, are evidence of what happens if their opponents get things wrong.

"We like to put the ball in front of our forwards so they are going forward," Taylor said. "But our back three like to operate so that if there's something on we can have a crack. If we do, we do it at 100 per cent."

And the message hasn't been lost on the opposition coaches with statistics bearing out the fact that against the Hurricanes teams are nearly twice as reluctant to kick away possession.

Figures compiled by Ruckinggoodstats show that on average sides have kicked tactically from hand about once for every 44 seconds they have the ball.

Against the Hurricanes, that figure rises to one minute and two seconds, way above the next least kicked to team, not surprisingly the competition leading Chiefs at 52 seconds.

In a nutshell, it's a complement to the threat sides see when they look at the names of Taylor, Savea and Jane on the team sheet.

What fans don't want to see is the aerial ping-pong that developed in Christchurch last week where there was a kick from hand for about every 20 seconds of possession, more than twice the average.

And there's a chance there'll be a bit of that tomorrow night with both teams above the average in terms of how often they kick.

Hurricanes first five-eighth Beauden Barrett echoed comments from Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis in saying territory has become a crucial part of the game this season.

"We've talked about the kicking strategy quite a bit already which is abnormal this early in the week," he said on Monday.

"But it's a pretty big focus for us. It's been brought up coming off the [Crusaders-Stormers] game on the weekend because there was so much kicking."

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When he's not searching for open spaces, Barrett is trying to exploit perceived weaknesses.

"Some opposition wings are not flash under the high ball, those are the things you are looking for or also the fullbacks, positionally where they stand, if they're flat. There's lot of thought going into the kicking game. It's more a strategy these days ... we don't kick for the sake of it."

Part of what creates a kicking duel is when both teams have a good chase line, the Crusaders and Stormers being classic examples.

What makes for a good counter-attacking back is the one who identifies those moments in a game where someone is fatigued, or out of alignment with his team-mates.

"Some teams like to stay narrow and shut things down, some teams like to spread and leave no opportunities that way. It's about studying what they are doing with their chase lines," Taylor said before offering hope there is still room for flair amid the structured professional game.

The rule introduced to ensure all players in front of the kicker do not advance till they have been put onside has provided extra time for those with the vision and pace to exploit errors.

"In the past you would catch it and they would be right on you. Now you catch it and you have a bit of time to see what you can do. I think it's a positive. There's always opportunity."

- Wellington

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