18 OCTOBER 1991, Page 55

SPECTATOR SPORT

NOW THE mostly one-sided preliminary matches are over, rugby union's World Cup gets down to the nitty gritty — and the whole thing, as sure as eggs, will be decided over the next fortnight by the goalkickers. It is completely potty that a handling and running game is settled, eight times out of ten, by the precision of a goalkicker. You get three points for a penalty kick, and only one more for a try.

Before this tournament, the world's best two goalkickers were considered to be Fox, of the New Zealand All Blacks, and Lynagh, of Australia. But both have been complaining of the wonky trajectory of the Prototype plastic ball, made by Adidas of Germany, which the Cup organisers chose in return for a hefty dollop of sponsorship money. The more the two of them miscue, the more interminable time a Fox and Lynagh take over their ritual and prepara- tion for the next kick. Six penalty attempts In a match, say, and that's a dozen minutes wasted with inactivity. Ludicrous.

The worst goalkicker — just about the worst everything — has been Welsh. But at least Mark Ring has spared us the boredom of the kicker's ritual. He just plonks the ball down, retreats a couple of paces, and then lacksadaisically stabs at it with all the insou- ciance of a rep casually toe-ing the tyres on his Escort to check the pressure. Ring has

Goalkicker's ritual

Frank Keating

missed a bucketful of kicks and Wales are wailing with humiliation.

The bald and bandy All Black, Bob Scott, was the first howitzing hoofer of legend that I saw. On the 1954 tour he would give cheerful post-match exhibitions for school- boys by walloping the ball over the bar from halfway in his bare feet. The lugubrious Don Clarke was another New Zealander with the kick of a mule. Down the years, you could almost choreograph a ballet of singular kicking styles as taut-faced young men have stepped forward to bisect the H . the boot-wipe and hand-smear of his shorts by Bob Hiller as preface to his preci- sion-tool torpedo jobs. .. the great rocket- launching thumps of a Thorburn or Hast- ings . . . gangling Peter Brown's sauntering turn-on-heel ... 011ie Campbell's delicate, split-second dancer's 'points' before spin- dling in to whack it . . . Tony Ward's round-the-corner. instepped curlers . . . the amiable, bar-creepers of Michael Kier- nan; far more apologetic than his uncle Tom's high fliers ... Phil Bennett's Moulin Rouge follow-through.., the agri- cultural, timeless, and inevitable caress by Dusty Hare. . .

England's full-back and goalkicker is the West-country doctor, Jonathan Webb. He is a delightful, softly companionable fellow, most `un-ruggery'. He insists there is logic to the goalkickers' ritual. As you are preparing, you have to keep 'visualising' the ball sailing between the uprights. 'Visualise, visualise. You must never find yourself telling your mind how to kick a ball. If you start thinking about the mechanics, it's fatal. Goal-kicking is nothing to do with the cerebral. If you tried to write down on paper exactly what you do to kick a ball between the posts with absolute certainty, it would be totally impossible; you'd still be at it in a million years. But when you have done it just the one single time, your body and mind has logged and stored the exact formula — and it's just waiting there, ready and even eager to be repeated.

'Having programmed it, the knack is to switch into it every time. That's the difficult part — and that's where the ritual comes in'.

Good stuff — but still not worth three- quarters of a try.