Friday, September 11, 2009

Video Analysis of Rugby Place Kicking

Great kicking in rugby can make the difference in close matches. In 1995 Joel Stransky kicked South Africa to the Rugby Union World Championships and in 2003 Jonny Wilkinson used his kicking boot to drive England to its first Rugby Union World Championships.

In Rugby Union in the past, penalty kicks of more than 50 meters were seldom, if ever attempted, but now the likes of Dan Carter and Francois Steyn are regularly scoring points with penalty kicks from as far out as 60 meters. The players may be be fitter and stronger now than ever before, but they also kick better and further because they study and improve their technique using video.

Lets take a look at some video of Dan Carter practising his kicks and break it down a bit:

  • Dan is obviously a left footed kicker, so note that he approaches the ball at an angle (about 45 degrees from the target) from the right . You will notice that right footed kickers will approach at a similar angle from the left. The reason for this angled approach is to open up the hips and allow the hips and then the legs to swing through a larger arc and therefore create more power for the kick. We have talked about the Kinematic Sequence for the upper body before when discussing golf, tennis serves, baseball hitting and hockey slapshots. Kicking requires the same sequence but of course now we want to accelerate the hips, leg and then foot in sequence to kick the ball with power.
  • Carter does not take too many steps before the kick ( 3 to be exact). Most good kickers will take fewer steps to eliminate the possibility of not being in exactly the right position to take the kick. If you attempt to run up further there is a chance you will take a small or big step along the way and be out of position for the kick.
  • Dan plants his right foot just adjacent (next to the ball). If he placed this standing leg behind the ball it would force his kicking foot further under the ball forcing the ball higher in to the air but getting less distance. Alternatively if he overran the ball, placing his support leg past the ball he would not be able to swing his leg through and get under the ball sufficiently to get the distance required.
  • His hips, leg and foot kick through the ball in sequence. If you pause the video you will notice how his hips rotate through toward the target first and his knee is left bent behind. The knee then straightens out and brings the foot through the ball toward the target.
  • He keeps his head down over the ball as he kicks. Keeping your head down looking at the ball ensures that you are balanced for the kick and that you strike the ball cleanly.
  • Finally he follows through with his hips and kicking leg. You will need to pause the video just after the kick to see this clearly. Note also that his head stays down through the follow through, once again ensuring that he maintains his balance.

In the video we can also see that Carter rolls over his support ankle (right foot) during the follow through. This happens because of his angle of approach toward the ball, which I have suggested allows him to get a bigger swing at the ball. Although this looks dangerous , the roll is forced by his follow through when most of his weight has been lifted from the support leg. You will see that some kickers look like their support leg is lifting into the air, rather than rolling, with the force of the follow through and as their weight is lifted from this leg.

This weekend South Africa takes on New Zealand in a match that could be crucial in deciding the 2009 Tri-Nations champions. We will see Dan Carter and Francois Steyn in action and most likely kicking some big goals. I am originally from South Africa so I will just say it.
Go Bokke!

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