I have been struggling with my voice recently (don’t all cheer at once) and cannot remember becoming as involved in a radio commentary from my armchair as Gloucester’s clash with Saracens at Kingsholm.
The plot – which lasted over two hours in all – was thick from beginning to end, and I salute my BBC Gloucestershire colleague Andrew Pugh, along with former players Simon Devereux and James Simpson-Daniel. It was “don’t turn off” stuff, capped by James Hook’s long range penalty to win the match. 90 seconds earlier, Hook had missed a dropped goal chance. I had thought that was that.
His winning kick took me back to a conversation I had with Tim Taylor about Gloucester’s kickers. Tim retired as a player last March, and might have wondered about his future when Nigel Davies left.
He had helped out in a specialist coaching role until the end of the season, but it was Alex Brown who briefed David Humphreys on Taylor’s role, one he retains today despite not having any coaching badges.
“When I was playing I did a lot of work with two men – in England, Jon Callard over a period of 3-4 years, and in New Zealand with Mick Byrne – known as Mick the Kick” Tim told me. “I learned a lot from both of them and I’ve taken that experience, along with kicking myself in matches, into my coaching now”
“We have six kickers here (Burns, Cook, Laidlaw, Thomas and Twelvetrees as well as Hook) and you have to remember that everyone is different with their own technique. It’s what I call a repeatable skill, where getting their own routine spot on is the key. In practice some lads will do 15 kicks – if they are kicking well they’ll stop. Others would want to do 30. That’s the way they are.”
I met Tim in the old changing rooms under the clock after he’d run a coaching clinic. It felt like a physics lesson, a subject I was dreadful at as a student. Each player sets the ball up differently. There are even different tees to put the ball on. When he started mentioning courses in bio-mechanics I needed some plain English.
“A kicker has to get all their momentum going through the ball” Tim said. “Greig Laidlaw has probably put five metres on the distance he can kick this season by working on that. He is unusual in that he jumps through the kick but it works for him. If he does miss three times in a row from the same area I’ll look at it. We use video a lot. We want the kicker to stay tall through the kick.”
“If you come out of the kick early, you’ll push the ball – if you finish round the corner you’ll probably hook it. Rob Cook’s approach until this season started very low and he stayed low through the ball. We felt we had to get him taller, and he was really good about it because it isn’t easy to change your technique if you’ve been doing it for a long time. I think it was the Brive match where he kicked 3/3 which was really good having not taken a kick all season up to that point.”
Kicking from the tee is only part of the skill of course. Positional kicking from hand is an effective weapon too. I compared it to a ball toss in tennis in reverse. Tim, succinctly, called it a ball drop.
“The drop is vital” he said. “Guys struggle because the drop is wrong. The ball might fall forwards or they will pull it towards them. The ball ought to be north to south, nice and straight and in line with your shoulder, and fairly low to the ground. Too high and you won’t be able to drive through the ball.”
“Kicking is such a massive part of the game we’ll work on it on every training day. Sometimes I’ll just watch. At other times we’ll work on something specific and it’s important the whole back line can kick – we don’t want to rely on 9, 10 and 15.”
Tim’s ethos is accuracy first and range later. It’s no good someone kicking a ball a long way but not knowing where it will end up. Consistency is the key, as is getting the ball to travel straight because it gives you the same chance wherever you are on the field.
Breaking down one skill into such minute detail made me realise again the standards top players work to.
Hook’s booming effort, given the timing and what had gone on before, will live in my memory – via the radio
– for a very long time.
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