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Barrett, McKenzie, Carbery - The value of being able to kick with your 'bad' foot

The Blues fullback has been using his left foot frequently in Super Rugby Aotearoa.

BEAUDEN BARRETT HAS clearly been working hard on his left-footed kicking and it’s one reason the 29-year-old is making the in-form Blues an even better team.

Barrett is a ‘natural’ right-footed kicker and still primarily kicks on his right but his left-footed kicking continues to improve to the point that it often looks ‘natural’ too.

Barrett has kicked from hand in open play 27 times in his three appearances in Super Rugby Aotearoa, with eight of those on his left side.

Last weekend against the Highlanders, we saw an example of the value Barrett’s left-footed kicking can add.

BB

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After Caleb Clarke has threatened on kick return, the Blues play one phase infield before scrum-half Sam Nock bounces back to his left and hits Barrett at first receiver for the fullback to kick left-footed.

The shot below shows us the situation just before Nock passes to Barrett.

Gregory

Out-half Otere Black [red] is set up on the openside as Barrett [white] reloads on the shortside, offering the Blues the kind of genuine two-sided attack that makes life so difficult for defences.

Highlanders fullback Scott Gregory [yellow] is tracking across to his left after the Blues have moved the ball infield, initially anticipating that the ball will go to Black next.

Instead, the Blues bounce back to Barrett and now Gregory has to readjust to his right.

Space

As we can see above, Highlanders right wing Ngane Punivai [blue] has had to close up on his edge because of the threat of the numbers the Blues have held in the 15-metre channel.

It’s a 5-on-3 and Barrett could obviously opt to pass here. But the Highlanders would quite likely have been able to sit off in defence, use the touchline as another defender and jockey or drift across to cover. Barrett instead identifies the space in behind the Highlanders and uses his left foot to deftly roll the ball all the way into the corner.

Gregory has to retreat back onto the ball, dip to scoop it up, then turn into the face of the Blues’ hard-chasing trio of Dalton Papalii, Hoskins Sotutu, and TJ Faiane.

Chase

The Highlanders fullback feels the pressure and attempts to scramble away a kick only for Sotutu to make a good block – lifting his arms late to avoid giving Gregory a cue.

BB1

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With Sotutu’s block rebounding back up off Gregory’s right foot, Papalii gleefully gathers it in to dive over the line for a crucial try. 

While Barrett did have one poor exiting kick off his left foot against the Highlanders, there was another nice grubber later in the game similar to the one for Papalii’s try.

BB2

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With the Blues leading 27-24, the fullback is keen to keep the Highlanders pinned back into their own defensive territory. Barrett rolls another grubber into the left corner, dropping into the backfield after kicking again, and even has his back turned as the ball crosses the touchline here.

While it would have been ideal for the ball to hold up just infield here, ensuring the Highlanders were left in another seriously tough position, finding the touchline certainly wasn’t the worst outcome.

L:R

Barrett’s ability to kick with his left foot is essential again here, as we can see above.

Had Barrett attempted to kick off his right foot, the ball would have dropped very close to Highlanders defender Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, most likely allowing him to block the ball with his own feet.

Instead, Barrett drops the ball onto his left foot outside Mikaele-Tu’u and is able to roll it into the space between the number eight and Punivai. Kicking off his left also makes the angle far more beneficial.

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Barrett has possessed a left-footed kicking for a long time and has even delivered assists for All Blacks tries on a number of occasions with kicks on his ‘bad side’ but it does appear that he has gained even more confidence with this element of his skillset.

We saw another example of a left-footed kick from a predominantly right-footed kicker in New Zealand yesterday as the Chiefs’ Damian McKenzie delivered this effort against the Crusaders.

DMac

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Taking the ball behind a screen of forwards, McKenzie has time to produce an accurate kick outside backfield defender Richie Mo’unga to leave him in a compromised position close to the touchline.

Characteristically, Mo’unga and the Crusaders handle it well, however, and manage to exit strongly but this clip shows us how McKenzie is alert to the possibilities that can open up if he continues to work hard on his left foot.

We’ve even seen Crusaders centre Jack Goodhue grubber-kicking off both feet over the last two weekends and it’s clear that Kiwi players are not limiting themselves in this regard.

One Irish player who has shown ability in kicking off his ‘unnatural’ left side is Munster’s Joey Carbery. He has worked hard on his left foot since he first started playing, with his father – Joey Snr – encouraging him.

“When we were practising when I was younger, my dad always pushed me to kick two off my left and one off my right, every time. Two kicks off the left for every one off the right,” said Carbery in 2018.

“From playing fullback, I know that playing against a 10 who can kick off both feet is a nightmare, especially when he can do it well. I’m always trying to work on it and the better it gets, the easier my job will be.”

We’ve seen evidence of that continuing hard work over the years from Carbery.

JC16

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Above, Carbery recognises the space behind the Castres defence while playing for Leinster in 2016.

Below, the playmaker delivers a beautiful left-footed kick on his first start for Munster in 2018.

JC Mun

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However, there’s no doubt about Carbery’s most memorable left-footed kick.

The 24-year-old delivered perhaps his best performance for Munster away to Gloucester last year in what was arguably the province’s most complete display under Johann Van Graan.

Carbery’s left-footed grubber assist for Andrew Conway was the headline moment in the win.

JCGlouc

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This score wouldn’t have been possible if Carbery wasn’t comfortable kicking off his left. 

After receiving the ball from Billy Holland, Carbery steps inside off his right foot and there is a brief window of space in front of him, just to his left. A right-footed kick simply wouldn’t work here, but Carbery has the solution.

Carbery

With Gloucester fullback Tom Hudson [white above] having made an error in closing up on the left touchline, Carbery has the skills to take advantage.

Most teams in the modern game strive to have multiple kickers across their backlines but it’s clear that having two-footed kickers makes life even more difficult for defences.

Now Barrett or someone else just need to hit a conversion in a World Cup final with their ‘bad’ foot, as Dan Carter did off his right back in 2015.

DC

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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