12 YEARS AGO, Australian fullback Matt Burke kicked 39 points in two Test matches as his side rebounded from an opening loss against the Lions to win the series 2-1.
Burke, now a columnist for the Sydney Morning Herald, knows all about place-kicking. So, when he describes Jonathan Sexton as ‘a serious goalkicker’, his praise of the Irish outhalf is weighty and merited.
Burke said, “Sexton makes teams pay for ill discipline… Owen Farrell is new to the international scene. No doubting he has talent, but to steer this big ship around the park I think is best left in the hands of Sexton.”
Bound for Racing Metro after the summer tour, Sexton gets his first Lions start, against Western Force, tomorrow. The kicking duties will fall to him and, despite a two from five return against the Barbarians at the weekend, he will back himself to deliver.
Lurking in reserve, just in case Sexton’s return against the Force is similarly low, is the Lions own place-kicking fullback. Leigh Halfpenny kicked 69 points for Wales in this year’s Six Nations and was the best fullback on show throughout. Along with Sexton and Farrell, the 24-year-old practiced his kicking, earlier today, at Paterson Stadium in Perth.
Halfpenny goes for the posts at the Lions’ Captain’s Run. (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)
Before he flew out on tour, Halfpenny told TheScore.ie, “To be kicking for Wales is a dream come true, let alone kicking for the Lions in a Test Series. If selected, I’ll certainly be putting my hand up for the responsibility.” He added:
When I first came into the team, people thought of me as a long-range kicker but that was never the case. I’ve been practicing my kicking ever since I was 12 and I love doing it.
“We had quality kickers at the [Cardiff] Blues like Ben Blair and, for Wales, Stephen Jones and James Hook. I had to bide my time. I was happy to kick the long-range stuff but my dream, as a kid, was always to kick for Wales. People ask about the pressure but, for me, it is a real privilege.”
Sexton revealed that he was out practice kicks on the morning Warren Gatland announced his Lions squad. It was his day off.
Halfpenny indulges in similar dedication on Christmas Day each year. “It’s something, for me, that gives me an edge over other kickers in the world.”
*TheScore.ie will be liveblogging all the action from Lions v Western Force on Wednesday morning.